The new telescope will explore 17 forming planetary systems and measure spectra to identify molecules in the inner regions of protoplanetary discs. (Image credit: NASA)
NASA is furthering its exploration mission with the upcoming launch of the James Webb Telescope, the successor to the Hubble. Slated to launch on December 8, 2020, the telescope will be located near the second Lagrange point (between two bodies in orbit) of the Earth/Sun system, which is approximately 900,000 miles from the planet, directly opposite of the sun. Its mission is to explore 17 forming planetary systems and measure spectra (plural of spectrum) to identify molecules in the inner region of planetary disks.
The Webb telescope will surpass the Hubble in several ways, allowing astronomers to look further out in space and back in time by searching for the first stars and galaxies that formed after the Big Bang. It will also allow researchers to study numerous exoplanets for potential signs of life. The Hubble telescope, launched in 1990, can capture ultraviolet, visible and near-infrared regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. This allowed it to take stunning images such as the Pillars of Creation, the Lagoon Nebula, black holes, novas, and more.
The Webb telescope is 100x more powerful and uses a series of gold-hued mirrors that, when combined, measure 21.3 feet, nearly 3x the size of Hubble’s 7.8-foot mirror. This allows the Webb to grab more light, giving it the ability to see farther than the Hubble. In 1995, scientists aimed the Hubble at what appeared to be a tiny patch of empty space and were astounded to find thousands of galaxies. With a mirror 100x more powerful, it will be interesting to see what the James Webb telescope will uncover.
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