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UArizona astronomers helped design new Webb space telescope

The Webb Telescope will see farthest ever
Posted at 6:00 PM, Dec 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-28 17:01:27-05

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — The Hubble Space Telescope has wowed people with its views from space for more than 30 years. On Christmas Day NASA and the European Space Agency launched a new space telescope that should be many times better. University of Arizona astronomers designed two of the cameras that will help the telescope look back almost to the start of the universe.

The James Webb Space Telescope is much larger than the Hubble. It will fly deeper in space and will have much better ability to collect a type of light the Hubble did not see as well—-infrared light our own eyes can’t see at all.

University of Arizona astronomer Marcia Rieke knows infrared is where the action is if you want to see light from soon after the Big Bang that kicked off the universe— because the farther the light travels from its source, the more it shifts to infrared.

“So the light is old in that sense, but we're seeing that object as it was when the light left it 13 and a half billion years ago. So we're seeing the object in its youth.”

Marcia Rieke and her team designed one of the four cameras on the telescope. Her husband and fellow U of A astronomer George Rieke designed one of the other cameras. He says the infrared images will be changed to show colors our eyes can see. Some images will show things only an astronomer can appreciate. Others will show us even better views of space than the pictures that made the Hubble Telescope a rock star with non-scientists.

“Like imaging exoplanets, planets around other stars, or looking at what's going on in dust clouds where very young stars are just forming, those are going to be more pictorial. So there's going to be a whole range of things that I think the public will get really engaged with.”

The telescope is named after James Webb. Webb was NASA’s second administrator. He convinced President Kennedy NASA could land humans on the Moon, managed the Apollo program and advocated other ambitious space science programs.

Naturally the James Webb telescope is very complex and it needs to perform to perfection. Unlike the Hubble it will fly too far into space for astronauts to repair it.
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