January 15th, 2010

kaiju

Webb

We have some new plans for the James Webb telescope, set to take over for the aging (but still fabulous!) Hubble Space Telescope...

Whereas the Webb initial mission was to study the very earliest stars, peering backward further in time than the mighty Hubble is currently able, scientists are now realizing that it will be perfect for following up on the new exoplanets being discovered. Webb will be able to do this more readily than Hubble because in comparison, the mirror size of Webb is truly gigantic. Also assisting is that Webb will be positioned well beyond Earth's orbit at the L2 Lagrange Point, allowing it to resist 'light contamination' from sunlight reflecting off of Earth or the Moon. Finally, Webb will be operating at very low temperatures... far lower than Hubble, which at a certain infrared threshold begins to detect its own heat, contaminating results.

Size is a key advantage in the planet hunt, and Webb is a truly enormous telescope. On the left we see Webb's mirror compared to Hubble's, and on the right there is a life-sized model of Webb on the grounds of the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland....





Sun-Earth Lagrange points....




Will Webb be able to forge an emotional link with me? I'm not sure - maybe if it turns into the workhorse that Hubble has been, but it is still going to break my heart when the HST finally transmits its last data to us.