James Webb Telescope : Explainer for UPSC

Written by Mitras IAS

Team @ Mitra's IAS comprises of the best teachers and authors who are engaged in developing innovative pedagogy and content to make the IAS preparation simpler and accessible to all aspirants.

Feb 7, 2022

The New James Webb Space Telescope: The Most Epic Space Mission Ever Planned

The James Webb Space Telescope (a joint project between NASA, European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency) is the successor to NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, which was launched in 1990. It is the most powerful space telescope ever built and is expected to revolutionise our understanding of the universe.

What is James Webb Space Telescope’s Objectives?

The Telescope is an incredible instrument that will help us to understand our universe in ways we never could before. It will allow us to see things that are far away (up to 27 million light years away from Earth) and even capture the first galaxies ever formed. It can see infrared light and thus, it can see through the thickest clouds of dust in space. It is expected to discover thousands of exoplanets, find out how stars form and how galaxies evolve. Moreover, it can also observe dark matter and dark energy.

Location and orbit

The telescope will be positioned at the L2 point in space, about 38 million kilometers from Earth. It will use a sunshield to protect it from the sun’s intense radiation and orbit around the sun every 12 months.

How is the James Webb Space Telescope different than Hubble?

  • The James Webb Space Telescope is much more powerful than Hubble. It carries a telescope mirror that is six times the size of Hubble’s, which allows it to view objects that are up to 15 times further as compared to Hubble.
  • While the Hubble telescope collects images in mostly ultraviolet (visible) light, James Webb will primarily take pictures in infrared, which can reveal a number of things.
  • Being an infrared telescope means it can look at objects in space that are invisible to our eyes. These observations can reveal a lot of information about a star or planet. For example, James Webb will be able to show us more about our sun. It might also be able to detect planets around other stars.
  • Unlike the Hubble space telescope, the James Webb telescope does not orbit the Earth and is going to a location known as the second.
  • What sets James Webb apart from the Hubble Space Telescope is that its primary mirror will be made of beryllium, which is a much more reflective substance than the gold or silver used in Hubble’s mirror. Beryllium is also much heavier than these metals, so Webb will weigh a lot less.
James Webb Telescope

Some points to note about the telescope

  • It was launched on 25 December 2021 from French Guiana.
  • Inter alia, it will study the origins of life on Earth
  • The telescope’s name comes from James Webb, an American astronomer who first theorised in 1951 that the universe is expanding.
  • It has a much wider field of view than the Hubble, which means it can see fainter objects.
  • The Webb telescope is one of the most expensive machines ever built.
  • It’s a bit like the International Space Station: It was formed as a result of a collaborative effort by several countries, and although it will act as one mission, it is not entirely under one country.
  • The JWST is capable of detecting the heat of a bumblebee as far away as the moon, according to NASA. The JWST is so sensitive to infrared light that it would be able to detect even the smallest amount of heat on the planet.
  • It will be of great use in different fields of study as it will be able to detect the first stars and galaxies to be formed, as well as all forms of life. It will be able to find out how planets are formed, and it will be able to provide information that can help recreate life on other planets. Accordingly, it will be of great use to the researchers so that they can get to know more about the universe.

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