There is a lot media coverage about the new James Webb space telescope lately, and how awesome it will be if they can successfully launch it into space.
I’m sure no one will be surprised to hear that I am looking forward to a fully functioning telescope situated in a “Lagrange point”, which is a location in space where the gravitational pull of the Earth and sun cancel each other out. Also, it will need to unfold itself with many moving parts, some of which have no redundancy and if they do not operate as designed, could make this entire project fail. Fixing any snafus would be an entire mission of its own. Considering this launch is already about fifteen years late, that would not be a good situation.
The article referenced above compares the advancement of this new telescope over the old Hubble as a one-year-old to a one day old, which means if all goes well, we should have an amazing scientific tool available to humanity to vastly improve our understanding of the universe around us.
Of great significance is the ability for the James Webb telescope to see further back in time than the Hubble is capable of. You can read up on the science of how this is possible, but in short because light waves travel to our “eyes” from so far away, we are “seeing” events that happened up to 13.4 billion years ago with the Hubble, which is 400 million years after the Big Bang is theorized to have occurred. The James Webb will “see” further along to 200 million years after the Big Bang, presenting a great deal more information about the formation of the universe.
Crossing my fingers that the launch and unfolding are both successful and amazing new details become available to us! But of course, the imagination takes the science in different directions. What if we are able to “see” another civilization, one that existed billions of years ago? Would we try to contact them, and if we could would they still exist, or would we only find the remnants of some mighty past empire that fell apart? What might have caused them to disappear? And could the same happen to humanity?
Science is a continuous journey to discovery, with each new revelation springing us toward the next. I’m excited to see where we go from here.
A special thank you to Mark, who correctly answered last month’s question with Jules Verne’s “20 Thousand Leagues Under the Sea”. Well done, Mark!