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The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which is the next generation of space telescopes, is prepared to being work in 2019. The first selection of tests has made it through the rounds, and 13 proposals have been accepted. The work will begin after the six-month commission period and is expected to take around five months to be completed.
The telescope’s predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, made some fantastic discoveries. It contributed to some of the most groundbreaking research at the time, so the James Webb has some impressive shoes to fill. It’s been well-designed to do just that.
The Telescope’s Stats
As of yet, the telescope hasn’t launched. It has completed almost all of its testing and is scheduled to launch in 2019, from the Kourou spaceport in South America. The new telescope is substantially larger than the Hubble. The original Hubble telescope mirror, still in operation after an incredible 25 years, is only 14 feet in diameter. By contrast, the JWST is an astonishing 21.3 feet.
The size of the mirror is paramount to how deeply the telescope can look. We have all seen the incredible images the Hubble telescope brought back from the universe, and now we will get images from an even stronger one. That’s because the larger mirror allows it to collect more light. The telescope can collect data from bright objects faster, and will also be able to see objects that even the Hubble couldn’t. It will be the most powerful telescope that’s been launched so far and should allow us to see the universe in unprecedented detail.
The First Programs
The programs that have been selected cover a wide array of topics and come from a variety of countries. There are over 250 investigators whose proposals were accepted. They will be working with the data the JWST collects and evaluating it in a worldwide effort to drive expanding knowledge.
The assignments that have been chosen include finding new organic molecules, galaxy formation, star formation and exoplanets, as well as starbursts and possibly supernovas. One is proposed to study Jupiter, including cloud layers, winds and temperatures of the planet. That project will also examine several of Jupiter’s moons, helping to make the information Juno collected more complete.
The studies focusing on exoplanets are also hoping to gain more insight into their atmospheric composition, something most other satellites don’t have the resolution to do. This is done by watching the planets and studying them as they pass in front of their system’s star. The corona that the telescope picks up can be studied, and different wavelengths represent different molecules, allowing scientists to get a feel for the atmosphere.
Farther from home, the JWST will also be looking deep, deep into space and back in time. A lot of the work will focus on areas Hubble has already studied, and will test to see just how much better the James is. The data found will hopefully complement and add to what Hubble collected and deepen our understanding of how the universe behaved early in its formation.
Altogether, the 13 different studies are expected to take about 500 hours. The data will be released immediately to the scientific community, which will allow the telescope the get the most data possible during the telescope’s startup. This is an unusual move, and part of the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Director’s Discretionary Early Release Science program. It’s designed to get information to the scientists as quickly as possible, so its full capabilities can be understood, and future programs can be planned. Although this is only the first year of the JWST’s expected five-year lifespan, the projects are already exciting.
Unfortunately, the James Webb Telescope will not be able to operate for the 25 years that the Hubble achieved. It requires rocket fuel to run, so when that runs out, it will no longer be able to maintain the instruments and collect data. There are five years of operation guaranteed, but scientists are hopeful it could be operational for as long as 10 years. We’ll all cross our fingers to get the most out of it we can.