Feature

James Webb – A Technological Precedent

By Elyas Layachi

Volume 1 Issue 3

December 16, 2020

James Webb – A Technological Precedent

Image provided by NASA

Introduction

Space telescopes exist in many forms, whether they be from Target or Walmart as a child’s toy, or the over 11-ton Hubble Space Telescope. They have one main goal – to analyze, observe, and admire the sky. The first telescope was constructed in 1608 by spectacle-maker Hans Lippershey. It was made of wood and had several lenses. It was by far one of the simpler telescopes. As the years went on, the telescopes gradually became more complex and powerful, to the point where they took up entire buildings. However, in 1937, a new type of telescope, the radio telescope, was constructed. Its main purpose was to observe the different types of radiation in space. The years went on and astronomers and scientists began to think, “Why don’t we put a telescope in the sky?” So on April 24, 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope, named after Edwin Hubble, was launched, making it the first space-based telescope. However, it only operated within Earth’s orbit. Later, in 2006, the Kepler space telescope was launched. It stretched the limits of telescopes and was one of the first to operate outside of Earth’s orbit in the far reaches of the universe, searching for habitable planets. In October of 2021, NASA plans to launch the James Webb Space Telescope, representing the beginning of a whole new generation of telescope.


Brief Overview of James Webb

The James Webb Space Telescope, named after a former NASA administrator, James Webb. Sometimes, it’s even referred to as the “Next Generation Space Telescope.” According to NASA, it will be the premier observatory of the next decade, serving thousands of astronomers worldwide with observations and information. The telescope is made of an 18-mirror array to allow for the reflection of light. It has a five-layer sunshield that “attenuates,” or “reduces the effect of,” the heat of the sun, and according to NASA, it reduces the heat of the sun over a million times. To analyze the stars like never before, the James Webb uses infrared technology: technology used to analyze heat signatures visually, which cannot be seen with the human eye. As we investigate the universe using the James Webb, we are looking back in time. Since light takes time to travel to our eyes, a planet that we see today that is 4,000,000 light years away, for example, will be seen like it were 4,000,000 years ago, rather than as it is today. We won’t see what that planet looks like today for another 4,000,000 years. Furthermore, infrared will allow astronomers to look past obstacles such as dust clouds, as well as allow them to analyze the “red shift,” or whether celestial bodies are moving closer or farther away from the Earth. This is the power of infrared: it enables us to peer into the past of the universe and better understand our origin. We are bound to make many important discoveries with the use of this telescope.


A Bright Future Ahead

According to NASA, the projected launch date of James Webb is October 31, 2021. It was previously scheduled to launch in March 2021, but due to the coronavirus pandemic as well as technical challenges, it was rescheduled. It is still undergoing launch checks and testing, and a private company, Northrop Grumman, is assisting in this.


The launch and use of the James Webb space telescope will define the next generation of space technology. It will be, by far, one of the most powerful infrared telescopes, and it will give humans the ability to see past the dust and rocks that occupy space, allowing us to peer into the past, understand our origin, and discover more about our vast, unknown universe.