Where did we come from?
The greatest origin story of all unfolds with the James Webb Space Telescope. Webb is NASA’s newest premier space science observatory – destined to be a household name, like its predecessor, Hubble. This is an Apollo moment for NASA science: Webb will fundamentally alter our understanding of the universe. It can observe all of the cosmos, from planets to stars to nebulae to galaxies and beyond – helping scientists uncover secrets of the distant universe as well as exoplanets closer to home.
Webb can explore our own solar system’s residents with exquisite new detail and search for faint signals from the first galaxies ever made. From new forming stars to devouring black holes, Webb will reveal all this and more. Webb is engineered to build upon the groundbreaking discoveries of other spacecraft, such as the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope.
While Hubble views the universe in visible and ultraviolet light, Webb focuses on infrared, a wavelength important for peering through gas and dust to see distant objects. After Spitzer blazed trails in the infrared, Webb will take us farther by virtue of a primary mirror that is nearly 60 times larger in area. Finally, Webb’s mirror gives us Hubble’s incredible resolution with even greater sensitivity, and it is fully adjustable in space. Webb’s large mirror and advanced suite of instruments are protected by a five-layers unshield, built to unfurl until it reaches the size of a tennis court. The entire observatory is folded up to fit inside the launch vehicle and will unfold in space. This complex deployment sequence has never been attempted for a space telescope, and the amazing engineering that enabled Webb includes many innovations that push the boundaries of technology.
Webb is a feat of human ingenuity. The mission has been developed over two decades, with contributions from thousands of scientists, engineers, and other professionals from more than 14 countries and 29 U.S. states. Webb’s launch is a pivotal moment that exemplifies the dedication, innovation, and ambition behind NASA and its partners, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), but it is only the beginning.
The observatory’s six months of commissioning in space is an exciting but harrowing time, during which thousands of parts and sequences all have to work correctly together, almost a million miles from Earth. This period culminates when the telescope begins to take data – a truly momentous celebration for the mission, NASA, the United States, and the world.
Fundamental astronomy questions propelled Webb’s unique design, cutting-edge capabilities, and unparalleled infrared sensitivity – all geared to provide a new view of the universe and capture our imagination with extraordinary science discoveries. It’s a giant leap forward in our quest to understand humanity’s place in the great cosmic expanse.