NASA Is Launching A New Telescope That Could Offer Some Cosmic Eye Candy
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NASA, ESA/Hubble and the Hubble Heritage team
NASA, ESA/Hubble and the Hubble Heritage Team
In December, NASA is scheduled to launch the huge $ 10 billion James Webb Space Telescope, which is sometimes billed as the successor to the aging hubble Space Telescope. The new telescope, the largest and most powerful ever put into space, will travel to a lonely position 1 million miles from ground, where it will be able to peer out into the farthest reaches of the universe. After a setting-up menstruation of about six months, NASA will unveil the telescope ‘s first images to the public. “ Will Webb images look angstrom gorgeous as hubble images ? Will we love them not equitable as scientifically valuable, but are they gon na knock our socks off ? I ‘m pretty certain they are, ” says Jane Rigby, a NASA astrophysicist on the James Webb team. But the new telescope has some important differences that will affect what kinds of science it can do and what kinds of images are sent home. Its primary mirror is 21 feet across and covered in gold, and it ‘s far larger than Hubble ‘s mirror. That will let Webb collect far more light and see much more distant galaxies. The telescope will besides aid the search for potential signs of life on Earth-size planets in other solar systems by letting scientists analyze the bantam amount of starlight that filters through those planets ‘ atmospheres .
A generation of iconic Hubble images
For three decades, the populace has gotten used to space as seen through the eyes of Hubble. “ I think hubble surely is the first telescope where the images appeared everywhere, ” Rigby says. “ I have socks with hubble pictures on them. I ‘ve seen them on the sides of a U-Haul going down the highway. ” The hubble images, she says, hit us “ in this kind of amazing, connected to everything, possibly spiritual way. ”
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NASA and ESA
NASA and ESA
It was n’t constantly like that. After hubble launched into orbit around the earth in 1990, the first images it sent binding were by chance fuzzy. Its mirror turned out to have a bantam flaw, and this Hubble trouble made the telescope a family name as late-night comedians and amusing strips mocked its inadequate sight. It was like being at a rock concert .
barely a few years subsequently, however, astronauts installed corrective optics. And what Hubble saw then was mind-blowing. Robert Hurt, an astronomer and visual image scientist with the California Institute of Technology/IPAC, remembers being at a science conference when some of Hubble ‘s foremost images were displayed. “ It was like being at a rock concert, ” Hurt says. “ I mean, people were cheering. ” big telescopes on the grind constantly had to look up through the Earth ‘s disruptive atmosphere, which has a distorting effect on the light that comes through, Hurt says. Hubble ‘s perch above all that, in sphere, gave it crisp, spectacularly detailed views. Familiar stars and cloud of flatulence were suddenly transformed into gorgeous, glowing visions that got names such as the “ Pillars of Creation. ” Those celestial scenes became iconic.
Waiting for infrared Webb
While Hubble has gazed out at stars and galaxies, astronomers and engineers have been hard at work on the James Webb Space Telescope, which is named after a former NASA administrator. Its development has gone on far longer — and has been far costlier — than anyone anticipated. This telescope ‘s massive mirror is divided into segments, so that it and a five-layer, tennis court-size sunshield can fold up inside a rocket and later unfurl. All of its technologies have to operate without a hitch, because unlike with Hubble, there ‘s no manner to send up a compensate crew .
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Light takes time to travel through distance, and Webb will be able to capture light up that ‘s been traveling for about the stallion history of the population. “ Webb will be able to see galaxies as they looked a couple hundred million years after the Big Bang, ” Rigby says .
The telescope can do this because it is optimized to see near- and mid-infrared alight that ‘s invisible to people. hubble, in contrast, primarily captures the kind of optical light that human eyes can see. An infrared telescope such as James Webb not only can see older, colder objects, but it can besides peer through dust that can obscure stars and other objects in hubble images. “ A set of those iconic hubble images are because you are seeing dust scatter light all over the locate, which is beautiful. But it makes it truly hard to study the stuff that is inside, ” says Nikole Lewis, an astronomer at Cornell University.
Part science, part artistry
Deciding how to assign colors that our eyes can see to the versatile wavelengths of infrared light, she says, involves a little bit of artistic license. But then there ‘s always been a certain sum of art in hubble images, besides. Hubble ‘s cameras send back black-and-white images. Vivid colors are added late — sometimes to mimic what our eyes can see and sometimes to highlight identify scientific features such as the presence of oxygen or other elements. And even though hubble looks at the visible sparkle spectrum, that does n’t mean its view equals what people would see. If you could ride in a starship out to a nebula, a cloud of scatter and boast, and then look out the window, it would n’t look like a brilliant hubble trope. “ You would see the slightest faint daze in the flip, ” Hurt says. “ It would be very dark. Because the full total of light that these nebulas utter is n’t very a lot, and our eyes are very small. ” He notes that Spitzer, another infrared space telescope that operated for about 17 years before shutting down in 2020, produced lots of stunning center sugarcoat, though it was smaller and less herculean than James Webb will be. Spitzer was able to get images of the very center field of the Milky Way galax, which is surrounded by particles of debris that prevent the passage of visible lightly .
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Spitzer Space Telescope/NASA/JPL-Caltech/S. Stolovy ( Spitzer Science Center/Caltech )
Spitzer Space Telescope/NASA/JPL-Caltech/S. Stolovy (Spitzer Science Center/Caltech)
Lisa Storrie-Lombardi, conductor of the Las Cumbres Observatory who was project director for the Spitzer Space Telescope, expects that James Webb will produce its own iconic images. “ James Webb Space Telescope is a bigger telescope than both Spitzer or Hubble, and it ‘s going to take brilliant images in the infrared, ” she says. “ They will be beautiful. ” She recalls that once, early on in Spitzer ‘s mission, Flickroom posted one of this infrared telescope ‘s images and mistakenly called it a hubble effigy.
“ I knew Spitzer had in truth, you know, hit the big time, ” she says, laughing, because for the public, Hubble has long been the gold standard for stunning out space imagination. The world will soon see how James Webb ‘s images measure up. If the establish takes target at the end of the year, as planned, the inaugural pictures should arrive by following summer, once the telescope has been set up and adjusted and made ready to do skill. The James Webb team has a top-secret plan for what pictures it will release to the public first, Rigby says. Those pictures, she adds, “ are intended to be jaw-droppingly beautiful, mighty, both visually and scientifically. ”