What’s All The Hoopla About? NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Delivers!

By Joe Contreras, Latin Life Denver Media. (See exclusive interviews below)

By now you have probably heard and seen a lot of the hoopla regarding the images being sent back to earth from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). But did you know that some of those stars and other objects in those images may not even exist anymore, at least not in the form in that the telescope captured them?

The telescope captured the “Cosmic Cliffs” of the Carina Nebula. (Reuters: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team)

Why? The James Webb Space Telescope should be able to see between 100 and 250 million years after the big bang! But while that is up to about 13.7 billion years ago, it’s not 13.7 billion light years away – it is much further than that, because of the expansion of the universe. This means that the JWST will effectively be looking at objects that existed 13.6 billion years ago. That’s how long it takes for that light to reach the telescope.

A group of five galaxies that appear close to each other in the sky: two in the middle, one toward the top, one to the upper left, and one toward the bottom are seen in a mosaic or composite of near and mid-infrared data from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, a revolutionary apparatus designed to peer through the cosmos to the dawn of the universe and released July 12, 2022. NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.

Many of those objects may have been consumed by black holes, exploded or drifted into other galaxies by now. But they do give us an idea of how the cosmos formed. Nasa’s launched the JWST telescope in December 2021, and it is now in orbit around the sun, about 1 million miles from Earth. According to NASA, the JWST involved over 300 universities, organizations and companies across 29 U.S. states and 14 countries, Including several Colorado connections. (see LLD interview)

The first images from the James Webb Space Telescope are just a preview of the impressive capabilities of NASA’s $10 billion, next-generation observatory. Billed as the successor to the iconic Hubble Space Telescope, which launched into orbit in 1990, Webb was designed to peer deeper into space than ever before, with powerful instruments that can capture previously undetectable details in the cosmos. 

Calvin Tennamon, Director for Northrup Grumman talks about the virtues of the James Webb Space Telescope at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science Watch Party as the first images are sent back to Earth. July 12, 2022. Video by Latin Life Denver Media

A big difference between the James Webb Space Telescope and the Hubble Space Telescope is that JWST will orbit the sun, while Hubble orbits Earth. JWST will be too far away to be serviced unlike Hubble which was accessed and serviced by space shuttle missions.

James Webb Space Telescope
Hubble Space Telescope

Both Hubble and Webb snapped images of a distant group of five galaxies known as Stephan’s Quintet. This band of galaxies is located nearly 300 million light-years away in the constellation Pegasus. Webb’s mosaic reveals some never-before-seen details, including bundles of young stars, active starburst regions and huge shock waves as one of the galaxies smashes through the cluster.

The telescope is named after James E. Webb, who was the administrator of NASA from 1961 to 1968 during the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs.