Eyes To The Past: The James Webb Telescope By Silas Eaton

Photo by Lucas Pezeta on Pexels.com

One marvel of engineering is the James Webb Telescope. Built by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and launched on December 25, 2021, the James Webb Telescope has many people who thrive on space exploration excited. It promises to bring new discoveries and increased understanding about the early universe. It will allow us to see the universe in a literal new light. The James Webb Telescope is used to see the infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. Infrared is a type of light that has a wavelength of 800 nm to 1 mm, and it cannot be seen by human eyes. Some telescopes in the past, such as the Hubble Space Telescope, have been able to see infrared light, but not to the capacity as the James Webb Telescope.

Many of those who are new to astronomy, astrophysics, or space travel wonder why we need to spend exorbitant amounts of money on space telescopes. The types of objects this telescope are varied. Researchers in the past could see the objects of the solar system, but an infrared light telescope allows for more detail to be seen. Also, there are the objects hidden behind interstellar dust clouds (mixtures of elements formed when a star explodes), such as  millions of stars that are able to be viewed with the telescope. Originally, the telescope was designed to see the very first galaxies formed after the Big Bang, which took place 13.8 billion years ago. The James Webb Telescope will be able to see those galaxies – quite a long time ago from the human perspective. Unlike the Hubble Space Telescope, the James Webb Telescope will not be orbiting Earth. Instead, it will be positioned to orbit around a very special place in our solar system called Lagrange Point 2, where the gravitational pull of the Earth and Sun allow a spacecraft to maintain a position without excessive fuel usage.  

The reason that the once visual light from these distant stars and galaxies have shifted into the infrared category of light is because the universe is expanding, meaning that when the light is sent out by a star, it will take longer for the light to reach us. The longer the light travels, the more energy it loses, and running into dust could also cause the light to lose energy. This makes the wavelength of light go down, shifting visual light into infrared light. The farther an object that emits light is from us, the farther back in time we are seeing. This is because the universe is massive, millions upon billions of light years long. Light travels at a constant speed. So if a light source is 40 million light years away, it will take 40 million years for that light to reach us. Space is constantly expanding, so it may take 60-100 million light years for a distant object to send light to us.

The mirror of the James Webb Telescope is 6.5 meters wide, that is about 3 times the size of the Hubble Space Telescope’s mirror, which was the best telescope before the James Webb Telescope! The telescope’s mirror allows for a larger field of vision, and a better spatial resolution. 

The James Webb Telescope has many astronomers and astrophysicists ecstatic. It will allow them to see the universe as it has never been seen before. Make sure tokeep up to date on the latest  news on discoveries done by the James Webb Telescope, it may just change your universal view! 

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