Space, the final frontier…
And today, NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), as well as other international groups is creating the opportunity to see the origins and formation of this very frontier with the aid of the James Webb Space Telescope (due to its rather long name, it shall be referred to as the JWST from here on out).
Scheduled for launch in 2014, the JWST is the next model to replace the Hubble and become the best space observatory of the decade. Unlike the Hubble, the JWST will orbit much further from Earth, a whopping 1.5 million kilometers (just about 1 million miles) where its fuel will hopefully (fingers crossed) last it 10 years.
Named after a former NASA administrator, this 6-billion dollar project will include: a large mirror (6.5 meters long) and a sunscreen the size of a tennis court. Since these objects won’t fit fully opened into a rocket ship (the JWST will be sent 1-million miles into space via rocket), they will unfold upon arrival (it’s kind of like a *transformer*). Unfortunately for us, 1 million miles away is too far, so if anything goes wrong there is nothing we can do about it: $6 billion down the drain.
But wait, you ask: what’s all this for? Why chance 6 billion on another Hubble?
Well, the JWST will be able to see back in time and detect infrared light from the other side of the universe. Remember: the speed of light is not instantaneous. Coming from 13.4 billion light years away, this infrared light will show the JWST the formation of planets/stars/galaxies/etc from 13.4 billion years ago. What makes this even cooler is the fact that the universe is estimated to be 13.7 billion years old. The JWST will be able to show astronomers the beginning stages of space as we know it!
As if that was not enough, the JWST will also be able to detect the chemical composition of planets, observe planets orbiting stars in our galaxy and view stellar nurseries to see planets and solar systems form.
Cool enough for you? I thought so.
Visit the links above in the second and third paragraphs to find out more about NASA’s latest project (there is a live webcam of the JWST)! To learn about more discoveries, check out this book I recently found at the library:
Space | A Visual Encyclopedia, featuring current imagery and information from NASA.
For books on the Hubble Telescope, click here.
– Maddie, 14
Teen Center Advisor