For nearly 23 years the Hubble Space Telescope has been orbiting 559 km above the Earth. It’s captured some of the most stunning images of galactic formations and stellar nurseries the world has ever seen. Soon Hubble will be deactivated.
An international consortium of 17 countries led by NASA, The European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is developing the James Webb Space Telescope (JWT) to replace the celebrated Hubble.
The James Webb (Named for NASA’s second administrator) telescope will feature a very cold, 6.5 meter gold coated beryllium mirror. Composed of 18 hexagonal segments the mirror will have a collecting area of 25m2.
In addition to its enormous mirror the JWT will feature four instruments that will help it collect data across the infrared spectrum and also stabilize its line of sight observing capabilities.
Three of the instruments, the NIRCam (Near InfraRed Camera), the MIRI (Mid-Infrared Instrument) and the NIRSpec (Near InfraRed Spectrograph) are fine tuned to examine particular portions of the infrared spectrum. The fourth instrument the FGS (Fine Guidance Sensor), will be used to control the orientation of the telescope and drive the fine steering mirror to better stabilize images.
The JWT’s 10 year mission will contribute to a broad range of astronomical research. It will observe the most distant objects in the Universe, including the first stars formed after the Big Bang.
But the task that will likely get the most press will be JWT’s direct imaging of planets beyond our solar system. Dubbed exoplanets, they have made headlines as media outlets speculate that one day our space-faring decedents might colonize them.
The estimated cost for the JWT is $8.8 billion. The telescope is scheduled to launch aboard an Ariane 5 rocket sometime during 2018.
Read More About Next Generation Telescopes:
The Giant Magellan Telescope
The Thirty Meter Telescope
Images Courtesy of NASA