Concept Image of the James Webb Telescope travelling through space

The James Webb Space Telescope: A Breakthrough in Astronomy and Space Exploration

The universe is a vast and mysterious place, full of secrets waiting to be uncovered. For centuries, astronomers have gazed up at the stars, using their telescopes to explore the cosmos and gain a deeper understanding of our place in the universe. The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is set to take this exploration to the next level.

Launched in 2021, The James Webb Space Telescope is a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). It is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, which has been in operation for over 30 years. With its advanced technology and ground-breaking capabilities, the JWST is poised to revolutionise our understanding of the universe and make new discoveries about the universe we call home. In this blog post, we will discuss the significance of the JWST and its potential to unlock some of the greatest mysteries of the cosmos.


Photo of the James Webb Space Telescope's Primary Mirror
JWST Primary Mirror made up of 18 Hexagonal Mirror Segments
Image Credit: NASA/Desiree Stover


What Makes the JWST Special?

The JWST's primary mirror is more than six times larger than Hubble's, with a diameter of 6.5 meters (21.3 feet), this mirror allows the JWST to collect more light and observe fainter objects. It is also made up of 18 hexagonal mirror segments, which can be adjusted independently to correct any distortions in the mirror that may occur during observations.

One of the most significant features of the JWST is its ability to observe the universe in the infrared spectrum. The JWST's mirror is coated with a thin layer of gold, which is highly reflective in the infrared spectrum. This means the mirror will be able to capture more light from distant objects it observes, allowing it to collect more data and provide more detailed images of the universe. By observing in the infrared spectrum, the JWST can detect faint signals that were previously undetectable, allowing us to study the early universe and its evolution.

The JWST is fitted with the Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) which will be used to study the chemical composition and temperature of exoplanet atmospheres, and to search for the presence of water, methane, and other gases that may indicate the presence of life.

The JWST also has a unique and complex shield made of five layers of Kapton material that is designed to protect its sensitive instruments from the heat and radiation of the Sun as well as other sources of radiation in space. To achieve this, the shield is positioned between the Sun and the telescope, blocking out almost all of the light and heat that would otherwise reach the sensitive instruments. The shield is also designed to radiate away any heat that is absorbed by the shield, allowing the instruments to operate at the extremely low temperatures required for their observations.


Image of the James Webb Space Telescope's Sunshield
JWST Five Layer Sunshield
Image credit: NASA/Chris Gunn


Key Goals

One of the primary goals of the JWST is to study the formation of galaxies, planetary systems and the first stars. Through this observation, the JWST will provide insights into the physical processes that govern the formation of these structures. This is important because understanding the formation of galaxies, planets and stars is essential for understanding the conditions necessary for life to exist and the evolution of the universe as a whole.

The JWST will also study exoplanets and their atmospheres. Exoplanets are planets that orbit stars other than our own Sun. The study of exoplanets is important because it can provide insights into the formation and evolution of our own solar system, as well as the potential for life on other planets. The JWST will be able to study the atmospheres of exoplanets and determine their chemical composition. The presence of certain chemicals, such as oxygen, water vapor or methane, could be an indicator of the presence of life.

For example, if the JWST were to detect an excess of oxygen in an exoplanet's atmosphere, it could suggest the presence of life, as oxygen is a highly reactive gas that is unlikely to persist in an atmosphere without being replenished by living organisms. Similarly, the presence of methane in an exoplanet's atmosphere could also be an indicator of life, as methane is a gas that is typically produced by living organisms.


Photograph of the Carina Nebula
One of the first images caputred by the JWST - Carina Nebula
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI



The construction and launch of the JWST has been a complex and challenging process, marked by numerous delays and cost overruns. The JWST was initially scheduled to launch in 2007 at a projected cost of $1 billion; then in 2011 the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) had announced that the estimated total cost of the JWST to be round $8.8 billion, including development, launch, and operations.

In another cost revision, NASA in 2018 announced that the project would cost an additional $800 million, bringing the total cost to over $9.7 billion. The JWST has faced numerous technical and funding obstacles that have significantly impacted its development. After many years of hard work and dedication, the JWST was finally launched in December 2021.


Dark Matter

Another important goal of the JWST is to study the behaviour of black holes and the role they play in shaping the universe. By observing the behaviour of black holes in distant galaxies, the JWST will help astronomers better understand the mysterious force of dark matter and its role in the evolution of the universe. This is a crucial area of study, as black holes and dark matter play a major role in shaping the cosmos, and a better understanding of these forces will help us to better understand the universe as a whole.

Dark matter is a mysterious substance that is thought to make up approximately 27% of the universe's total mass-energy, but does not interact with light or any other form of electromagnetic radiation. This makes it very difficult to detect and study using traditional telescopes. However, the JWST's ability to observe in the infrared spectrum may allow it to indirectly detect the presence of dark matter through its effects on the distribution of visible matter. The exact nature of dark energy is not yet understood, but the JWST's observations of distant supernovae and other celestial objects could help shed light on its properties and behaviour.


Photograph of Galaxy Cluster SMACS 0723
One of the first images caputred by the JWST - Galaxy Cluster SMACS 0723
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI



The James Webb Space Telescope is a technological marvel that will greatly enhance our understanding of the universe. With its advanced capabilities and ground-breaking achievements, the JWST is poised to make new and exciting discoveries.

As we look to the future of space exploration, it's exciting to imagine the possibilities that lie ahead. Whether it's discovering new exoplanets, observing the birth of stars, or unlocking the secrets of black holes and dark matter, the JWST has the potential to make discoveries that will change our perception of the universe for ever.

It's important for all of us to stay engaged and informed about the latest developments in astronomy and space exploration. We encourage you to share this blog post and leave a comment below to start a conversation about the JWST and the future of space exploration. Together, we can continue to explore the universe and uncover its secrets!





Cover Image Credit: NASA GSFC/CIL/Adriana Manrique Gutierrez

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