([Photo: Desiree Stover/NASA])
When the time-traveling orbital observatory known as the James Webb Space Telescope reaches its orbit around the Earth (which NASA hopes will happen sometime in mid-2019), it will radically increase how far we can peer into the past, and, scientists hope, unlock some of the greatest mysteries of our universe.
A successful launch and deployment of the telescope would represent the beginning of a new era for astronomical science. But it would also open the door for a new kind of technical innovation in space, one that promises to accelerate our capabilities and make possible things that scientists have not yet begun to dream about.
TELESCOPE AS TIME MACHINE
The James Webb Space Telescope, or JWST as it’s known, will let us peer further back into the history of the universe than we have ever seen before, so much so that NASA has referred to it as a “a powerful time machine,” one that can see more than 13.5 billion years into the past, to a time when the first stars and galaxies the universe had ever known were just beginning to be formed.
“In reality, all telescopes are time machines,” says Dr. Alberto Conti, an astrophysicist at Northrop Grumman Corp., the company primarily responsible for implementing the design and construction of the telescope. “The nearest star is about four light years away. So when we look at this star, we see it as it was four years ago, when the light we see today originated.”