NASA’s Atypical Christmas: The Launch of the James Webb Telescope

This most recent Christmas, the object streaking across the sky at astronomical speeds likely wasn’t Santa’s sleigh. Launched atop an Ariane 5 rocket on December 25, 2021, NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope is already promising valuable returns. One hundred times more powerful than its predecessor, the iconic Hubble Space Telescope, Webb will be tasked with searching for galaxies and forming stars. In particular, the James Webb telescope will focus on the first 100 million years after the Big Bang, or the Cosmic dark age, to learn more about the period around the formation of the first atoms. “The James Webb telescope is the most complex telescope NASA has ever launched into space,” said scientist John Mather. The telescope essentially functions as a real-life time machine, as it allows us to see into the universe’s past. Webb is also equipped to analyze the atmospheric compositions of exoplanets and could be used to search for a theoretical planet with similar conditions to Earth or even search for alien life forms.

The deployment of Webb was an extremely delicate operation. “Our blood pressure will be high and our hearts beating fast until it’s fully commissioned,” said Daniel Neuenschwander, the Director of Space Exploration at the European Space Agency. The maneuvers were so complex that NASA renamed the launch sequence “29 days on the edge.” The major advantage of Webb over Hubble is its size: a mirror of more than 21 feet across allows it to see celestial objects which had previously been undetectable. The impressive size of the mirror also allows greater precision. Currently, the telescope is making a month-long journey to its designated orbit around the sun.

Webb is an international partnership between NASA, ESA (European Space Agency), and CSA (Canadian Space Agency), which are among the most advanced space agencies in the world. After 30 years of development and many delays, the James Webb telescope looks through space to bring our origins to light.

By: Yasmine Tazi