A New Age in Astronomy: The James Webb Space Telescope

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Learn about the history and development of Webb, and the amazing science this observatory will produce.

Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Office of Public Outreach in collaboration with NASA’s Universe of Learning partners: Caltech/IPAC, Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian, and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Video imagery:
  • Images of the Webb Space Telescope on the ground: NASA/Chris Gunn
  • Video of Webb unfolding: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
  • Hubble Space Telescope image of GOODS-South/ERS2 Field: NASA, ESA, Rogier Windhorst (ASU), S. Cohen (ASU), M. Mechtley (ASU), M. Rutkowski (ASU), Robert O'Connell (UVA), P. McCarthy (OCIW), N. Hathi (UC Riverside), R. Ryan (UC Davis), Haojing Yan (OSU), Anton M. Koekemoer (STScI)
  • Animation of the early universe: NASA, ESA, L. Hustak (STScI), D. Player (STScI)
  • Visualization of the Orion Nebula: NASA, ESA, and F. Summers, G. Bacon, Z. Levay, J. DePasquale, L. Hustak, L. Frattare, M. Robberto, M. Gennaro (STScI), R. Hurt (Caltech/IPAC), M. Kornmesser (ESA); A. Fujii, R. Gendler
  • Animated montage of early telescope designs: NASA, ESA, D. Player (STScI)
  • Webb animation: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
  • Image of Earth from the International Space Station: NASA
  • Webb undergoing environmental testing and packing the sunshield: Northrop Grumman
  • Images of Webb’s Mission Operations Center at STScI: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
  • Webb Global Contributor Map: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
  • Animation of Webb’s Deployment Sequence: NASA and Northrop Grumman; HubbleSite.org; Arianespace

Writer: Claire Blome
Designer: Dani Player
Editorial and design input from Dr. Rutuparna Das (Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian), Dr. Kelly Lepo, Yesenia Perez 
Music from Music for Non-Profits


Objects in outer space. Text, Where do we fit in all this? What is out there?

How does the universe work?

A New Age in Astronomy: The James Webb Space Telescope. NASA Chris Gunn. The James Webb Space Telescope is the largest telescope we've ever sent into space.

The telescope has an 18-segment mirror that spans 6.5 meters (21.3 feet) at its widest point.

Why? To capture faint, infrared light.

Launching this massive telescope required plenty of innovative thinking.

Webb folded like origami into its launch vehicle before traveling 1.5 million kilometers (930,000 miles) to its final orbit.

Why gather infrared light, which human eyes can't see?

Webb will help us learn what the universe was like shortly after the big bang.

Its data will help us characterize how galaxies change - over billions of years.

Webb will reveal new details about how stars and planets form, live, and die.

Designing, building, and testing space telescopes takes decades.

Although Webb was first proposed during a 1989 workshop, it launched in 2021.

To build Webb, international teams of scientists and engineers worked to create new technologies and instruments - advancing how we can study objects in space.

This rewarding work met many challenges.

Teams at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston Texas began preparing for cryogenic testing of its instruments in July 2017.

In August, they encountered Hurricane Harvey.

Despite catastrophic rains, the team endured, ensuring uninterrupted testing.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe.

Teams assembling and testing Webb adopted new public safety protocols or worked remotely - and pushed on

Engineers and scientists working in Webb's mission operations center at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScl) in Baltimore Maryland, also passed a critical test in 2020.

While working closely with NASA and the missions partners, STScl staff demonstrated that Webb will respond to commands in space.

These experts, made up of people with a diverse range of ages and backgrounds, have practiced commanding the telescope for years.

Astronomers have also extensively prepared to use this extraordinary space telescope.

Exactly 286 of their proposals were approved for its first year of science in 2022 - granting researchers around the world time to observe with Webb.

The proposals undergo an anonymous review process, which helps ensure Webb's observing time is allocated to a diverse set of researchers with great ideas.

Webb has shown us that human ingenuity knows no bounds.

Together, we can make great leaps, designing and building new technologies

Opening up vast opportunities to observe space in high-resolution infrared light.

Webb, along with NASA's suite of observatories, will lead us to make many more cosmic discoveries.