The James Webb Space Telescope (gallery below the article) is a testament to human curiosity. Curiosity is a trait among our species that has driven us to not only ask questions but pursue the answers. It is this curiosity that has driven us to create technical advancements and create marvels that once only could exist in a science fiction novel.
Are we alone?
A burning question that has been in our minds for centuries has been “Are we alone?” While we still do not have a positive answer, that hasn’t stopped us from seeking it out.
Aug. 20, 1977 – Voyager 2 is launched from Cape Canaveral, FL., propelled by Titan-Centaur expendable rockets and carried with it, a message, a golden record containing over 100 analog-encoded photographs, greetings in over 50 languages, 12 minutes of sounds from Earth and 90 minutes of music. Its cover, adorned with a map, shows our location within the galaxy.
Human curiosity knows no limits, and while Voyager hasn’t returned proof of alien life or provided any intergalactic visitors with a road map, it hasn’t stopped us from looking up into the stars and wondering what is out there.
“There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.” – Carl Sagan
The Hubble Space Telescope
On Apr. 24, 1990, five astronauts boarded the space shuttle Discovery and launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, carrying an advanced feat in human engineering, the Hubble Space Telescope.
Hubble brought much of the unknown into the known but opened the doors to many more questions with answers waiting to be discovered.
Originally slated for a 15-year lifespan, Hubble still orbits Earth and is used by scientists today. The telescope has observed locations millions of light years from us, allowing scientists to gain knowledge on how galaxies formed.
With all of its revolutionary technology for the time, Hubble lacked a key feature, seeing the infrared spectrum. The farther away a galaxy is, the longer the wavelength of light. Hubble can observe near-infrared, but when the wavelength of the light crosses into the infrared spectrum, it becomes invisible to Hubble.
The James Webb Space Telescope
On Dec. 25, 2021, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) was launched from Kourou, French Guiana. Equipped with 18 hexagonal gold-plated mirror segments, JWST can observe much more than Hubble, and in the infrared light spectrum.
The ability to view in infrared has allowed JWST to not see millions of years into the past, but billions. The first deep-sky image released from JWST focused on a galaxy cluster called SMACS 0723. The image featured galaxies that were previously unseen, some over 13 billion years old, the oldest ever observed.
We are already using data from JWST to better understand the atmospheres of other planets, the lifecycle of stars and hope to one day answer the question of if we are alone.
Until then, JWST is giving astronomers plenty of new mysteries to explore.See a typo? Report it here.