James Webb Space Telescope Launch

Ash Solomon, Staff Writer

James Webb space telescope space on orbit of Earth planet. Space observatory. Sci-fi collage. Elements of this image furnished by NASA (url: https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/styles/full_width_feature/public/thumbnails/image/iss063e074377.jpg https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/blogs/elegantfigures/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2011/10/land_shallow_topo_2011_8192.jpg https://science.nasa.gov/science-red/s3fs-public/styles/large/public/thumbnails/image/Webb_2-sm.png) (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

In 1996 an idea for a revolutionary telescope was proposed, equipped with a cutting-edge mirror that would be able to capture things that the Hubble could never possibly see. It would be called James Webb. Webb was the administrator of NASA during the Apollo program, and he helped keep it going.

Hubble vs. Webb

First off, the James Webb telescope is not a new Hubble, it uses different sensors. The Hubble telescope is able to capture visible and ultraviolet wavelengths of light, while James Webb will see infrared at a much higher quality. This will let humanity discover new exoplanets and detect parts of their atmospheres, gain more understanding about things we already know and see right after the Big Bang. 

How can it see through time?

You may think that light moves very fast, but on a universal scale, it is nothing. For example, light from the nearest star to Earth, Proxima Centauri, would take 4 years to reach us. This means we see light from 4 years ago. The James Webb telescope will have such high detail, zooming to see so far away that the light it will capture would be from billions of years ago.

Where did it launch and why?

The JWST (James Webb Space Telescope) launched from French Guiana, which was chosen for many reasons. French Guiana is along the equator in South America, which provides a perfect launch area. It is also along the eastern coast which means that the rocket’s path will be over water instead of land, which allows spent stages to splash down harmlessly in the ocean. The European Space Agency (ESA) also has a launch site in this area due to its advantages.

When did it launch?

The telescope had faced many delays, in fact, it was supposed to launch in 2007. It was mainly delayed because of redesigns, technical problems and the fact that the telescope costs 9.7 Billion dollars. It was a very long and careful process, but finally, the telescope was able to launch on December 25, 2021.

Where is it now?

The telescope safely made its way to orbit, carried by the Ariane 5 rocket, which is regarded as the safest launch vehicle. When it first arrived in space, the folded up telescope started to unfold its components including a solar panel for power as well as the 5-layer tennis court sized sunshield, with 4 of the layers as thick as a human hair. This shield is in place because the telescope contains infrared components that let it see space, and those sensors need to be extremely cold. The telescope made its way to a point one million miles behind the Earth and Sun. It will take approximately 5 months until the telescope is fully deployed. As of now, the telescope is aligning it’s 18 mirrors. Each of the hexagonal mirrors weigh 46 pounds and are 4.3 feet across. In total, the full mirror spans 21 feet. We should be able to expect our first images back from it this Summer.