5 Major Ways The Webb Will Help Astronomers Understand The Universe

Highly anticipated, revolutionary newcomer to the hierarchy of space telescopes, the James Webb Space Telescope, is finally set to break new ground in many areas of astronomical research

After several delays, NASA finally launched this observatory on Christmas Day last year.
The launch of the telescope and the project’s cost has climbed by nearly over $10B.

Many scientists believe that the Webb is worth the money and the wait, despite some lawmakers and academics raising concerns that the project is syphoning funds from other research fields.

How Hubble Became The Inspiration For The Webb Telescope?

The Hubble Space Telescope, a 31-year-old observatory famous for taking beautiful photographs of our universe’s galaxies, inspired Webb’s design.

According to Eric Smith, Webb’s programme scientist and NASA’s Astrophysics Division’s chief scientist, it fills in the gaps left by its predecessor. He also claims that there is no telescope made so far that is comparable to Webb.

Who Made The Webb Telescope?

The new observatory, which was launched from northern French Guiana near the equator, was a collaborative project involving the US, European, and Canadian space agencies. “When you see Webb go into space, it’s the entire force of human ingenuity and all kinds of disciplines that propel it there,” says the author.

How Is Webb So Special?

This latest spacecraft is special in two ways.

First, it’s massive, with a 21.3-foot primary mirror that will make Webb the farthest-seeing telescope ever constructed.

Second, Webb sees the universe in infrared light, which has somewhat longer wavelengths than visible light. It will be the only long-range infrared telescope in space. Hubble, its nearest rival, works largely in the visible spectrum and has a limited infrared viewing range.

“When astronomers get a new telescope, it’s like a kid in a candy store,” Smith adds.

Here are the five things which will help astronomers to understand the universe ( thanks to Webb’s size and its infrared capability).

How Were The Initial Galaxies Formed?

According to Daniel Eisenstein, an astronomer at the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, “one of the primary objectives of telescopes is actually as time machines, because distance is look-back time.” Eisenstein will use Webb’s cameras to “time-travel” back to the Big Bang, when the first galaxies were formed.

We don’t observe a faraway galaxy in its most recent state when we look at it from light years away. The number of years it takes for its light to reach Earth is expressed in light years.

The closest galaxy to ours, for example, is the Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy, which is 25,000 light-years away and takes 25,000 years for its light to reach Earth. That implies we’re seeing Canis Major Dwarf as it was 25,000 years ago when we gaze at it.

Scientists may view a galaxy further back in time, the further into space they can look. Webb, being the farthest-seeing telescope yet, can find the newest galaxies that humans can see.

Scientists like Eisenstein will examine multiple galaxies at various phases of growth to piece together their developmental history in order to better understand how galaxies emerge.

The infrared capabilities of the Webb Space Telescope are also critical for viewing these galaxies. The expanding cosmos will spread out light from distant galaxies. The wavelength of light will have altered from visible or ultraviolet to infrared by the time it reaches our telescopes.

Fortunately, Webb is already constructed for picking up infrared signals. Eisenstein adds, “This is the first time we’ve had a huge, cold telescope in orbit that can see these infrared wavelengths.”

The Hubble space telescope has managed to capture the shortest wavelength infrared rays coming from the bluest of light of faraway galaxies. The obsolete Spitzer infrared telescope was much smaller than Webb and couldn’t see as far into space. Webb will knock it out of the park in terms of how deep it can look into space and how far back in time it can catch distant galaxies in the act of growing up.

To Detect Possible Chemical Signatures Of Life On Other Planets.

If life exists outside of Earth, it will emit distinct chemical traces that can modify a planet, such as breathing carbon dioxide and photosynthesizing out oxygen. Scientists will be able to assess a planet’s habitability by analysing the molecules in its atmosphere, in addition to looking for life.

Webb can detect infrared wavelengths in the atmosphere of exoplanets, which are worlds outside our solar system, to fingerprint molecules like water and methane.

Webb has two instruments that will allow scientists to decipher the wavelengths of infrared transmissions from solar systems other than our own, or to untangle the hues of the infrared rainbow.

How Can We Observe The Atmosphere Of The Exoplants?

When an exoplanet collides with a star that our telescopes are looking at, the starlight loses some of its energy. Which corresponds to the molecules in the exoplanet’s atmosphere. By studying the blip in the starlight, Webb can chemically examine the atmosphere of the star’s planet if it happens to be staring at the right star at the right time.

Munazza Alam, an astronomer at Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, states, “Exoplanet science as a field is rather new.” Thousands of strange planets have been discovered in the cosmos since the discovery of the first exoplanet in 1992. She responds, “They’re all over.”

However, humanity’s knowledge of these extrasolar planets is limited to the fact that they exist. It’s difficult to conduct infrared spectroscopy on new exoplanets of interest with present technology, such as Hubble or on-Earth infrared telescopes. In comparison to Webb, Hubble works with a significantly narrower band of infrared energy.

The Earth’s atmosphere, which is an absorber and scatterer of infrared radiation, envelops ground observatories.

The Earth also generates infrared background radiation, which would drown out the feeble signals from the deep universe.

The Earth’s atmosphere and warm radiating surface are out of the way in space, allowing viewers an uninterrupted view of the night sky.

Alam is looking forward to surveying a smattering of Jupiter and Neptune-sized exoplanets with Webb. “We’re only at the very tip of the iceberg.”

To Watch The Birth Of Stars

Star birth places are strewn with dust. While the clouds make for stunning photographs, the dust prevents scientists from seeing deep into the heart of them with visible light. Fortunately, infrared light from stars may penetrate the dust, giving scientists a fresh perspective on an old problem.

“Red light can travel through the dust in the Earth’s atmosphere better than shorter wavelengths, blue lights,” explains Marcia Rieke, a University of Arizona infrared astronomer and principle investigator of one of Webb’s infrared cameras.

The same idea explains why infrared light can travel further than visible light through dusty galaxies. “It’s the same thing when you look at the setting sun; it’s much redder than when you look at it during the day.”

Hubble’s infrared capabilities were only scratching the surface when it came to understanding star creation; Webb’s infrared range will let scientists gaze deeper into the dust.

How Is Webb Going To Observe The Birth Of The Stars?

Young stars emerge from the dustiest fissured, where visibility is the main concern. Scientists may be able to shift through the dust to make out these baby stars with unparalleled details thanks to Webb’s great infrared sensitivity and remarkable resolution. Webb might also aid researchers in understanding how dust cooks up a star, why stars develop in clusters, and how planets form around a star.

To Study Black Holes From A Different Angle

Nothing, not even light, can escape a black hole, hence they are theoretically invisible. Fortunately, there is plenty of visible matter moving around black holes, including stars, dust, and entire galaxies. Scientists examine this stellar zoo to learn about black holes, similar to how they examine a shadow to learn about the object that casts it.

Scientists have previously employed X-ray telescopes to investigate specific aspects of black hole physics. These telescopes study processes that are millions of degrees hot and high enough to create X-rays, such as the violent shredding of stars that approach a black hole too closely.


In terms of size, sensitivity, and wavelength range, Webb will be the first telescope of its sort. With its capabilities, scientists have a strong probability of seeing something they’ve never seen before.

“Of course, there’s something we don’t expect,” Rieke says, “and that’ll probably be the most thrilling.” She speculates that it could be a phenomenon that entirely contradicts established cosmological ideas.

I want it to go live as soon as possible, and I want to start collecting data as soon as possible because I’m not getting any younger.” Rieke has been a part of Webb’s development since 2001, and from the 1980s until the early 2000s, he was a co-investigator on Hubble’s infrared instruments. “And I’d like to finish all of this before I decide to retire.”

“She had planned to retire five years ago, but the delays in Webb’s launch persuaded her to postpone her own retirement.”

Now that Webb has been launched she wants to conclude a research on the universe’s very first galaxies in four years, following which she will finally take her long-awaited break. However, she claims that if it discovers something completely fresh and mind-blowing, it might be ready to delay retiring for a little longer.

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