Article by Allison Cobert | Illustration by Audrey Merkel | Owl Staff
Amid the light of the moon, the sky glows full of mysteries. No two areas are quite the samein the sprawling arena of space which humans, so small in comparison, cannot begin to imagine.
The Hubble Space Telescope was one of the first instruments to take clear pictures from beyond Earth’s atmosphere. Almost 30 years of imaging have been displayed for all to see. The Hubble sparked the raw human instinct to further explore the universe and the unknown.
At NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, a pivotal project is in the works. Scheduled to launch in 2021, The James Webb Space Telescope (also known as JWST or the Webb) will surpass the Hubble’s limitations and aims to pierce the ambiguity surrounding how the galaxy was formed and what lies beyond the Milky Way.
John Mather, Nobel laureate and Senior Astrophysicist, is the Senior Project Scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope.
“…Our new telescope will be bigger, better, and more powerful, see farther back in time, see into the dust clouds where stars are being born,” Mather told Edward Goldstein in an interview on NASA’s website.
Mather also addresses the importance of understanding the conditions that allowed for life on Earth. “We hope to touch the whole history of our own situation, how the Earth could come to be, beginning with the primordial material, and this is a tremendously exciting thing for us, but it is still only the beginning of the questions that people have in mind,” he says.
NASA’s website explains further, “It is with infrared light that we can see stars and planetary systems forming inside clouds of dust that are opaque to visible light.”
In addition to helping us uncover the mysteries of our own creation, the Webb may help us in our quest to discover life in the further reaches of the universe.
NASA plans to use the telescope to examine exoplanets – planets outside our own solar system – at levels of detail beyond the Hubble’s capabilities. If any of these strange worlds are capable of harboring life, the Webb will have a better chance of detecting it.
The new infrared technology will also help answer burning questions about our closer neighbors. NASA says the Webb will be used to study the chemistry of Mars’ atmosphere.
Elizabeth Landau at NASA states the instrument will “look for certain chemicals that relate to the history of water on Mars. Water is an essential ingredient for life as we know it, so understanding when the planet was wetter is connected to the question
[ of] any potential life, past or present.”
The James Webb Space Telescope, whether used to gaze lightyears into the universe or to examine the planet next door, will signify a monumental advancement in space exploration.
The vast array of stars filling the void suddenly look closer. The dark sky above has a story waiting to be told and with the help of the Webb, mankind will be able to listen.