Exciting Times: James Webb Space Telescope

NASA to Provide Update on James Webb Space Telescope | NASA

Aaron Jiang ’23

The depths of our lonely, empty, and scary cosmos that is our universe frightens us, but yet excites and intrigues us humans to pursue knowledge of the unknown. Such was the mission of our collective ambition within the Hubble Space Telescope. Since its launch back in 1990, it has traveled a distance of a trip to Neptune, the furthest planet in our solar system, at the speed of 17,500 mph. Hubble was able to take a peek back in time, a very old and distant pass that’s at 13.4 billion light years from earth. Remember, the universe is 13.8 billion years old, so that’s very close to uncovering secrets at the instantaneous moments of the Big Bang when all came into existence within seconds: space, void, elements, laws of physics, and all else. Moreover, it has made over 1.3 billion observations since 1990. Now these are all memorable achievements of our friend Hubble. However, we are not here to converse about it today. For it is getting old, weakened, and outdated. It shall be replaced by technology of this century who is more capable of serving the curiosity of humanity. Well, I know that sounds a little mean.

In all seriousness, we’ve got our new friend The James Webb Space Telescope, which is a joint NASA-ESA-CSA space telescope that’s planned to succeed the Hubble. This is a huge breakthrough in human astronomy history! Imagine the possibilities that still lie out there: the secrets of the origin of our universe, aliens, more galaxies, stars, and planets waiting to be discovered! It’s only what we can even imagine, but the adventurous part is that it will discover what we can’t even imagine at the moment. 

This 10 billion dollar successor to the Hubble has currently as of October arrived at Europe’s Kourou spaceport after being shipped from the US. Preflight checks have already begun after the packaging and container has been relieved from it. This is the biggest scientific project of the 21st century period, and it will be launched into orbit on December 18 of this year, which is coming up. An Ariane-5 rocket will throw the telescope out to an observing position about 1.5 million km from Earth. From that point on, let the game begin: looking deeper into the cosmos further back in time than possible with the Hubble. This is possible due to a much bigger mirror at 6.5m in diameter versus 2.4m of Hubble’s, and the instruments that are tuned to the infrared. Scientists are expecting and hoping to see more than 13.5 billion years ago into the universe! To detect the light from the very first population of the stars, which maybe then can in turn discover some other enigmatic nature of the Big Bang and its first light.

Its final testing was also completed in August at the Northrop Grumman factory in Redondo Beach, California, after which its journey to French Guiana. Teams at Europe’s spaceport will first check that no damage was picked up along the journey before fueling it and matting it to Ariane 5. It’s all ready for the launch on December 18, 2021!  Webb Space was conceptualized 30 years ago, and it journeyed its way into existence to finally be launched in late 2021. Let us share the excitement in this achievement and cheers for humanities’ thirst and curiosity for more knowledge!