The youngest astronomic VIP is the James Webb Space Telescope. NASA developed James with contributions from the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency. And NASA has big plans for it, that puts a lot of pressure on Hubble’s successor.
Four records are already established:
- First: with its infrared eyes that can see through the cosmic dust that obscures Hubble’s vision, James must reveal galaxies as little as 200-275 million years old.
- Second: being an advanced telescope, James will have to measure the smallest exoplanets’ atmospheres. Through transit spectroscopy, it has to catch planets as small as Neptune that revolute around Sun-like stars, and planets as small as Earth around red dwarfs.
- Third: far away, at infrared wavelengths, James must find virgin stars, untouched since the Big Bang. Made only of hydrogen and helium.
- Fourth: with its performant coronagraph, James will have to reveal the image of the smallest planets ever.
James Webb Space Telescope Vs. Hubble Space Telescope
Unlike the Hubble, James will observe high redshift objects that are too old and too distant for the Hubble to observe, such as the formation of the first galaxies. Other goals include understanding the formation of stars and planets, and direct imaging of novas.
James Webb Space Telescope’s development began in 1996. The launch was initially planned for 2007. Because of numerous delays and cost overruns, in 2005, James needed a significant redesign. That’s only natural, considering that almost ten years have passed since it started, and technology went ballistic meantime.
The JWST’s construction was completed in late 2016. Then the testing phase began. In March 2018, NASA delayed the launch after the telescope’s sun shield ripped during a practice deployment. After it was again postponed in June 2018 (an independent review board recommended so), the launch is currently scheduled for March 2021.
Now, James Webb Space Telescope is like a mythical hero, such as Hercules: whatever Hubble could do, James can do it ten times better. Be aware, James! You might be the new Hercules, but there might come a time for a new Achilles to arise.