The JWST's Mind-Blowing Science Potential
The James Webb Telescope (JWST) will be the Hubble Space Telescope's successor -- a joint collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).
The JWST is far more sensitive and will operate at higher resolutions than its predecessor. The key difference between the two telescopes is that while the Hubble operates with optical and ultra-violent wavelengths, the JWST is designed to detect red-optical light, mid-infrared light, and near-infrared light.
Combined with a larger mirror and higher resolutions, the JWST will be able to see far fainter objects than Hubble.
The JWST is unique in that it won't be found orbiting the Earth like the Hubble; instead it will orbit an island of gravitational calm, some 930,000 miles away at the second Lagrange (L2) point. The L2 point is located away from the sun, always in the Earth's shadow.
It's impossible to say just what the JWST will surprise astronomers with. Hubble discovered the source of gamma ray bursts, for example, something that wasn’t initially part of the project's plans.
Unfortunately, the JWST is currently on the budget-saving chopping block pending Congressional approval of NASA cuts later this year. Although a Senate subcommittee may have averted JWST cancellation, there's no guarantee that the planned 2018 launch will happen.
Assuming disaster is averted, like its predecessor, the JWST will discover things about our Universe that it wasn't initially designed for. But as discussed in this slide show, with the help of Jason Kalirai, Deputy Scientist for the JWST, Discovery News will just about scratch the tip of the iceberg of the JWST's potential.
Also see "Hubble's Top 5 Discoveries" for a run-down on how the JWST might build on its predecessor's awe-inspiring achievements.