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James Webb Space Telescope: The scientific mysteries no other observatory could unravel


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The James Webb Space Telescope will change our view of the universe.

Tereza Pultarova

Dec. 24 2021


A comparison of a Hubble Space Telescope image and a simulated James Webb Space Telescope image. The new telescope will peer deeper into the most ancient universe. (Image credit: ESA/NASA/STSCI)

When scientists planned and designed the Hubble Space Telescope, the most groundbreaking astronomical observatory of its era, there were many things about the universe they didn't know. One of these unknowns was that stars and galaxies existed already a few hundred million years after the Big Bang, Mark McCaughrean, senior advisor for science and exploration at the European Space Agency (ESA), told Space.com. 


But even if they had known about these early stars and galaxies, they didn't have the technology to make Hubble see them.

"Hubble had a whole bunch of top line goals, many of which were like 20 years old," said McCaughrean, who is also an interdisciplinary scientist at NASA's James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) science working group. "By the time they built it, science had moved, science had changed in some areas. And one of the things that astronomers discovered in the 1980s [shortly before Hubble's 1990 launch], was that galaxies formed much earlier than expected."

t became obvious that another, even grander, space observatory will be needed to get to those early stars and galaxies — those that had lit up the universe after hundreds of millions of years of darkness that followed the Big Bang when the expanding space was only filled with hydrogen atoms.


The technology that would eventually enable this observatory, now known as the James Webb Space Telescope (originally called the Next Generation Space Telescope), to see that mythical first light in the universe, had yet to be developed.

The power of infrared eyes 



Launch Set For 7:23 EST Dec. 24 2021


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Dec. 28 2021

The James Webb Space Telescope launched, but now its deployments must work. Even though the launch was successful, the hardest part is yet to come. We'll take a look at each of the deployment steps and understand why Webb has to be so complex to accomplish its mission.


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