New space telescope can see ‘almost back to the beginning’


The new James Webb Space Telescope will allow scientists to see more of the universe than any other tool ever built, according to one expert.

Paul Byrne, a professor of earth and planetary sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, joined “On Balance with Leland Vittert” on Monday to discuss what the telescope will allow scientists to better understand about the cosmos.

“The James Webb Space Telescope is going to be able to see farther back than any other telescope we’ve ever had,” Byrne said. We should be able to see “almost back to the beginning of the universe, the beginning of known time.”

He added it could see back to the galaxies and stars that formed within the first 100 million years of the history of the universe.

More powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope, the $10 billion Webb will scan the cosmos for light streaming from the first stars and galaxies formed 13.7 billion years ago. To accomplish this, NASA had to outfit Webb with the largest and most sensitive mirror ever launched — its “golden eye,” as scientists call it.

Webb is so big that it had to be folded orgami-style to fit in the rocket that soared from South America two weeks ago. The riskiest operation occurred in recent days, when the tennis court-size sunshield unfurled, providing subzero shade for the mirror and infrared detectors.

Byrne said NASA worked with the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency on deploying the spacecraft.

Besides the hefty price tag, Byrne said the project encountered numerous issues over its 20 years of development. Still, several advocates continued to push for the project’s completion.

“So we had people pushing for this for a very, very long time and say every time they hit a stumbling block, they’d say, ‘No, keep going,'” Byrne said.

He added the project’s completion spoke to the tenacity of the national and international astronomical community.

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