Hubble turns 25 this week, as its replacement prepares for launch in 2018
As Hubble turns 25 this week, its replacement is preparing to launch October 2018. Hubble’s replacement will be 100 times more powerful.
UPDATE: The James Webb Space Telescope’s launch has been delayed until March 2021.
The Hubble Space Telescope has by most measurements been a major success for NASA. Sure, it has had its problems over the years, but it also helped to expose us to some of the most incredible images the universe has to offer. It’s time is coming to a close though, and even as we celebrate Hubble’s 25th anniversary, its replacement is preparing to launch.
Hubble launched on April 24, 1990. Since the start of its mission on April 25, it has sent back thousands of images of deep space. If NASA gets lucky and nothing unexpected happens, Hubble will continue to operate until 2020. That would give it a bit of overlap with its replacement, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which is set to launch in October 2018.
For as impressive as the Hubble has been, the JWST will be 100 times more powerful. That will not only give us a look further into the universe than ever before, it will give us a look back in time to close to the beginning of the universe. According to NASA, the new telescope will be able to see back about 200 million years after the Big Bang.
Telescopic time machine
A report from Phys.org quotes NASA as saying the JWST will be a “powerful time machine with infrared vision that will peer back over 13.5 billion years to see the first stars and galaxies forming out of the darkness of the early universe.”
The JWST will allow scientists to see the darkest corners of the universe to where stars are being born. Perhaps more importantly though, the telescope is expected to significantly help us in our search for extraterrestrial life.
“Webb is quite big enough to have a high probability of finding bio signatures in the atmosphere of exoplanets, evidence of life,” Webb’s project scientist Mark Chapman said.
“We have sensors on board, equipment on board that will enable us to study the atmosphere of exoplanets spectroscopically. So we will be able to understand the composition of those atmospheres,” he added.
“We can make big progress in the search for life.”
A beginning and an end
When it is launched, the JWST will head to a distance of 930,000 miles, roughly four times the distance from the Earth to the Moon. From that distance it will make it harder to repair if the need arises, but it will also be far removed from the radiation, and the cold will keep it from potentially overheating.
As for Hubble, it will remain in a deteriorating orbit, slowly falling back to the Earth. It is expected to hit the atmosphere and burn up between 2030 and 2040.
The JWST is expected to operate for a much shorter time frame, but the results will hopefully make up for that. The telescope is designed to operate for at least five years, but the goal is for it to operate for a decade. Anything after that is a bonus.