As most of us were celebrating Christmas morning in December 2021, NASA was celebrating a different event: the successful launch of the James Webb Space Telescope. The launch marks the beginning of a highly-anticipated NASA mission that aims to transform how we study deep space.
First conceived in 1996, the telescope launched from a European Ariane 5 rocket from South America and will travel one million miles from Earth over the next month, transforming itself from its launch form to one ideal to withstand and analyze the depths of our universe.
Often referred to as the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, James Webb will expand upon Hubble’s capabilities and be 10 to 100 times more sensitive. Using a 12-foot gold-plated mirror, the telescope will be able to gather light that has traveled 13.6 billion light-years, offering insights into what our universe looked like right after the Big Bang.
In addition to details surrounding the Big Bang, the telescope will also capture data on a myriad of space events like black holes, galaxies, supernovae, and violent collisions between dense stars. It will perhaps even capture evidence of alien life. To illustrate its capabilities, NASA says the telescope would be able to capture the infrared light emitted by a bumblebee located at the distance of the Moon.
Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA, told The Verge, “We are, without a doubt, going to see surprises… the likes of which we can only dream of right now.”
Now that the telescope has officially launched, NASA will continue to monitor its progress as it shifts and travels. We will continue to report back on this space feat and its findings.