By Colby Nicholson
The James Webb Space Telescope, named after the late NASA administrator, is next in line to become the eyes of astronomers worldwide. The Webb telescope is currently being designed and tested in the Goddard Space Flight Center in a collaborative effort between NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency. The amalgamation of 30 years of design, research and testing stands in the form of what will eventually be the most advanced space telescope ever created.
The James Webb, like all the other space telescopes, is designed to detect a certain form of light, the infrared. The purpose of looking at only the infrared is very specific and extremely important. This telescope will not only be capable at giving us a glimpse back in time, but has the potential to discover a new home for humanity.
The claim that a telescope can do all this may seem exaggerated, but these are the literal functions of the telescope. As light continues to travel through space, its rays bend more towards the red wavelengths. With the James Webb’s ability to pick up these super infrared rays it will be able to see far beyond Hubble’s limits, to the oldest stars in the universe farthest away from us as the universe continues to expand from the origin of the big bang.
The Webb may not only show us the past, but it may find us a new home. An alternative bonus of picking up infrared light is that the telescope will be able to analyse the contents of foreign planetary atmospheres. The James Webb does this by observing a planet as it passes between the telescope and the sun. When a planet passes before the sun, its atmosphere has an effect on the suns rays that pass through it, just like our atmosphere does. The super smart scientists behind the telescope can analyse the effects of each planet’s atmosphere on the light and tell the exact composition of that atmosphere. Planets with certain atmospheric concentrations of methane not only have the potential to harbor a future interplanetary human civilization, but have the potential to develop life of their own.
In short the power of the James Webb telescope is undoubtable, and its potential to not only see back in time, but make the first discovery of alien life in the universe, is enough to keep astronomers on the edge of their seats. Until then it’s important to not get frustrated by the years of delay. Delays mean that NASA is still testing, this testing is of the utmost importance if the telescope is to properly achieve its extra-lunar (beyond the moon) orbit of the Earth. One mistake simple mistake in the flight path of the Webb would be the instant ruin of a multi million dollar project, and a trip back to the drawing board. Anything that could alter the Webb’s flight path in the slightest as it soars past the moon, could land it thousands of miles off target and keep us in the dark for even longer.