This is, well, HUGE.
NASA is building the biggest telescope the world has ever
seen, and it will give scientists the opportunity to 'see'
cosmic events that occurred 13.5 billion years ago - just 220
million years following the Big Bang. Named the James
Space Telescope (JWST), it will be 100 times more powerful
than the Hubble Space Telescope, and is tipped to be fully
operational within the next three years.
"What the Webb will really be doing is looking at the first
galaxies of the Universe," project scientist Mark Clampin told
the press at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre in the US
this week. "We will also be able, with these capabilities, to
look in very dark parts of the universe where stars are being
The JWST includes a mirror 6.5 metres in diameter, which is
three times the size of Hubble’s mirror, and it will have 70
times its light-gathering capacity. It will include four cameras
and spectrometers, the latter of which is designed to take in
light, break it down into its spectral components, and digitise
the signal as a function of a wavelength for scientists to
"We have sensors on board, equipment on board that will
enable us to study the atmosphere of exoplanets
spectroscopically, so we will be able to understand the
composition of those atmospheres,” Matt Greenhouse, a
JWST project scientist, told the press. "We can make big
progress in the search for life."
Unlike Hubble, which has spent the last 25 years orbiting
Earth, the James Webb Space Telescope will go all the way
out to one of the Lagrangian points - a set of five equilibrium
points in every Earth-Moon System - 1.5 million kilometres
(930,000 miles) away. This will keep it far enough away from
the Sun so it’s not too hot, and will shelter it from radiation
and "prevent it from being blinded by its own infra-red
"It will follow Earth around the Sun over the course of the
year. So it's in a Sun centre orbit instead of an Earth centre
orbit," said Greenhouse. "Just as Hubble rewrote all the
textbooks, Webb will rewrite [them] again."
The telescope is expected to launch in October 2018.