Christmas is coming early for astronomers as the most powerful space telescope is launched on Christmas Eve.
The James Webb Space Telescope is over 20 years in the making and scientists say it could be a time machine for galaxies.
“Looking out into distant space is like having a time machine,” said Mark Hammergren, an astronomer and planetary scientist at Farther Horizons. “Hopefully, we will be able to see things like the very first galaxies, collections of stars that formed in the universe after the Big Bang.”
Wendy Freedman, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Chicago, said her work with the telescope will be measuring how fast the universe is expanding – and from there get a measure of the age and size of the universe.
“Just about any area in astronomy you can think of, this telescope is going to be able to teach us something new,” Freedman said.
Scientists will be on the edge of their seats for this whole process, especially the 29 days following liftoff, Hammergren said. During that time, a series of steps will happen as the telescope goes into orbit, from the delicate telescope surviving the shaking of the rocket launch to the unfolding of the telescope and it’s support pieces, he added.
Unlike the International Space Station, the telescope is beyond Earth’s orbit, so it won’t be accessible for astronauts for repairs and upgrades.
“Everything has to work right, with essentially no chance of repair,” Hammergren said.