Most powerful space telescope ever to launch in 2018

2015-04-22 08:15
James Webb Space Telescope. (NASA Goddard Images, Twitter)

James Webb Space Telescope. (NASA Goddard Images, Twitter)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Greenbelt - As the Hubble Space Telescope celebrates 25 years in space this week, Nasa and its international partners are building an even more powerful tool to look deeper into the universe than ever before.

The James Webb Space Telescope will be 100 times more potent than Hubble, and will launch in 2018 on a mission to give astronomers an unprecedented glimpse at the first galaxies that formed in the early universe.

"JWST will be able to see back to about 200 million years after the Big Bang," Nasa said on its website.

It described the telescope as a "powerful time machine with infrared vision that will peer back over 13.5 billion years to see the first stars and galaxies forming out of the darkness of the early universe."

The project has drawn scrutiny from lawmakers for its ballooning costs, now at about $8.8bn, far higher than the initial estimate of $3.5bn.

But Nasa has promised to keep the next-generation telescope on track for its October 2018 launch.

"What the Webb will really be doing is looking at the first galaxies of the universe," Webb telescope observatory project scientist Mark Clampin told AFP at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland.

"We will also be able, with these capabilities, to look in very dark parts of the universe where stars are being born."

Inside a massive room that is partially closed off from view, in clean room where no dust can harm the telescope, a team of engineers dressed in white, resembling surgeons, work on building the JWST.

The space telescope will weigh 6.4 tons. JWST's main mirror will be 6.5m in diameter, three times as large as Hubble's.

New window

A joint project of Nasa, the European and canadian space agencies, JWST will carry four instruments, including cameras and spectrometers that can capture extremely faint signals.

Infra-red capability will help it observe distant celestial bodies, and its camera shutter will be able to remain open for long periods, explained Matt Greenhouse, JWST project scientist for the science instrument payload.

"The Webb will have 70 times the light-gathering capacity of Hubble. So the combination of the large size and the infra-red capabilities will allow us to observe this epic of the universe past," he said in an interview.
Hunt for life

Even more, the telescope should further the search for life elsewhere in the universe by opening a new window on planets outside the solar system, known as exoplanets that might have water and orbit their stars at a suitable distance to prevent freezing or boiling.

Already, Nasa's Kepler Space telescope, launched in 2009, has helped astronomers identify thousands of exoplanets. JWST is expected to propel that research even further.

"Webb is quite big enough to have a high probability of finding bio signatures in the atmosphere of exoplanets, evidence of life," Greenhouse said.

"We have sensors on board, equipment on board that will enable us to study the atmosphere of exoplanets spectroscopically. So we will be able to understand the composition of those atmospheres," he added.

"We can make big progress in the search for life."

Unlike the Hubble Space Telescope, which circles the Earth, the JWST will go even further, to a place called L2, for LaGrange Point, 1.5 million kilometres away in space.

That distance will keep the telescope cold, prevent it from being blinded by its own infra-red light and shelter it from radiation.

"It will follow the Earth around the Sun over the course of the year. So it's in a Sun center orbit instead of an Earth center orbit," said Greenhouse.

The heavy telescope is scheduled to launch atop an Ariane 5 rocket, made by the European Space Agency, from French Guiana in October 2018.

"Just as Hubble rewrote all the textbooks, Webb will rewrite it again," said Greenhouse.

Read more on:    space

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
9 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.