If you haven't noticed by now, I talk about space every chance I get. I find it fascinating that as a society we tend to think more about the grandiose idea of the cosmos, rather than the brilliant machinery that enables us to actually explore it. It's this discrepancy I'm looking to mend, and it all starts with the Hubble Space Telescope.
The Hubble is our greatest window into the wider universe. It's allowed us to capture some pretty remarkable instances and images. But, old-age has started to dim the Hubble's shine, and its ability to enable the next-generation of space exploration is lacking. Thankfully, however, NASA has just completed construction of the James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to its 25-year old sibling. It has a monstrous budget, unfathomable technology, and killer optics. The journey to truly appreciating the depth and passion of NASA's larger mission begins here, and ends billions of miles away.
The JWST has faced numerous hardships throughout its arduous journey to completion. One obstacle it faced was simply that people thought it was an unnecessary investment. The Hubble was doing a fine job, allowing us to capture nebula, the creation of stars, distant exoplanets, and much more. In fact, if you look at some of the images that the telescope still produces, it'd seem that a $5 billion budget for a new one would be wasteful. But just because the Hubble does well enough, it by no means justifies stagnation. It'd be like using a sports pager from 1992 instead of an iPhone 7. It's just new technology, and the JWST blows the Hubble out of the fucking water.
In terms of the tech specs, the telescope has a total area of 270 square feet of hexagonal beryllium coated mirrors. This science jargon may mean nothing to you, but what's important to know is that the Hubble had a measly 48. Moreover, the JWST has been designed to see into the infrared, which the Hubble is physically incapable of due to its insanely warm body. The technology of the Hubble heats up too fast and infrared sensors become confused easily. The JWST, on the other hand, is built to run as close to absolute zero as possible. It's absolutely mind-blowing. This means that we'll finally be able to peer past distant gas clouds and dust vapors in order to view previously unseen exoplanets.
Westerlund 2 -- Hubble's 25th anniversary image
NASA is currently running tests on the telescope, and plans to launch in October 2018 aboard a European Ariane 5 rocket.
Now I get it, it's a telescope. What's the big deal? Aside from all the science lingo above, why should you be excited? The answer lies in our fundamental inability to discern the universe. Our math, physics, and chemistry are utterly useless if we can't apply such principles to what lies beyond us. The driving purpose of science is to explore, create, and advance. We can discuss the beauty of the stars, and the inscrutable infinity of the cosmos as much as we want, but when it comes down to it, a cluster of steel, bolts, mirrors, and a lot of code is what's required to truly see beyond ourselves.
Think not of the technicalities, that's largely irrelevant. Instead picture the sheer possibility the JWST offers us - a look into worlds, galaxies, and infinities hundreds of millions of miles away.