A giant $10 billion space telescope is scheduled to be rocketed into space on December 22 with the hope that it will discover the universe’s origins and the first light that ever emanated in the universe, taking humanity back to the Big Bang.
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which measures 21 feet across with silver foil as a sunshield the size of a tennis court, has been in the making for 25 years at a cost of almost $10 billion and is scheduled to launch from Europe’s spaceport at Kourou in French Guiana aboard an Ariane 5 rocket.
Once in place, it will emit 458 gigabits of data a day for up to ten years. The telescope’s field of view is 15 times wider than the Hubble Telescope and gathers six times more light, JWST is considered one hundred times more powerful than the 31-year-old Hubble.
Light emitted by the earliest stars and galaxies hits the Earth as infra-red light, which the Webb telescope is able to ascertain, but the telescope must maintain a cold temperature to do so, requiring it to go much farther into space than the Hubble. The Big Bang is estimated to have occurred roughly 13.8 billion years ago. The JWST is estimated to be able to see light from at least 13.5 billion years ago.
Systems engineer Amy Lo told CBS News, “At the bottom of the spacecraft, that silver shroud is a parasol, big as a tennis court, to shield Webb from the sun. Above, there are 21 feet of gold-plated mirrors, six times bigger than Hubble’s mirror, to catch the earliest star light in creation.” She spoke of the 18 hexagonal mirrors, saying, “All 18 images will form one very nice, solid image. That image would be invisible to the human eye. Like a night vision camera, Webb is designed to see heat — infrared light — because that’s the only signature left from the stars at the edge of time. Even that glow will be so dim the mirrors will have to squint for hours to expose an image.”
Astrophysicist Amber Straughn added, “Everything we know about, everything we can see, me and you, everything on the planet, all the hundreds of billions of other galaxies, all of that only makes up about 5% of the universe. The rest of it, that other 95%, we have no idea what it is. That 95% –the unknown–is all around us like a ghost. Nearly all the cosmos is made up of what physicists call, in desperation, dark matter and dark energy. Never seen, scientists infer they must exist because they’re the best explanation for how galaxies form and move.”
“It’s like we have this 14-billion-year-old story of the universe, but we’re missing that first chapter,” she continued. “And Webb was specifically designed to allow us to see those very first galaxies that formed after the Big Bang. Now, galaxies are born and then they evolve, they change over time, and this way that galaxies change must rely critically on dark matter. And Webb is going to allow us to observe that process of galaxy evolution in much more detail.”