For those who might be more technically inclined, you should watch the video. This is fascinating stuff. I have been following this project for a while now.
Image from Quanta Magazine
Until I read this article, I did not recognize how much the study of Cosmology and the history of the Universe is still in its infancy. There can be theories about the nature of the Universe, and about how things came to be, but, at the same time, it gets more and more difficult to establish the facts about time closer to the Big Bang through observations. With newer tools, newer discoveries are being made with fair regularity. Many of these discoveries have happened during my lifetime, but I have failed to recognize their significance, for example, the discovery of the existence of exoplanets on other galaxies, the fact that the Universe is not in a steady state and is growing in size, etc… Since I am not an expert in the field, I have the tendency to take things for granted.
If the James Webb Telescope works, we will be able to see earlier into the life of the Universe than ever before. Read the article to understand the details. Energy is still reaching us from earlier on in time from the farthest reaches of the Universe. We just need to be able to detect it with our tools. We still do not have the capability to see things that are close to the Big Bang. Hubble revealed a lot about the early Universe. Hopefully this telescope gets us even closer. This is fascinating stuff.
The article talks about the long developmental history of the telescope, and about its design and the nature of its operation. The challenges include design of this large piece of equipment so that it can be launched into space by rockets of today, a design that can detect extremely low levels of energy from distant galaxies, etc… This is probably the most sophisticated and precise instrument that has ever been built by human hands. Its cost approaches 10 billion dollars, about the cost of building the US Navy’s aircraft carriers today. If even one element of the implementation and deployment goes wrong, we have a problem that would be very difficult to recover from. When deployed about 1 million miles out in space, there is no physical access to the telescope. (That was a lifeline we had with the Hubble telescope.) This is the cost of discovery today.
The first possible launch date for the James Webb telescope is December 22nd of this year. The telescope is in Kourou, French Guiana, at the Ariane launch site. It has been fueled up..
It is a long article, but well worth it, I thought…
This is a video from the the article.