Science

7 big questions the James Webb Space Telescope is about to answer

NASA has just released the first full-colour image from the James Webb Space Telescope. Here’s what it is looking at first – and how it will address the biggest mysteries of the universe



Space



6 July 2022

The first deep-field image from the James Webb Space Telescope

NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI

ON 11 JULY, President Joe Biden unveiled the first deep-field image captured by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), revealing galaxies as they appeared some 13 billion years ago – and raising the curtain on a new era in astronomy. After years of delays, a suspenseful launch and months of testing, the most powerful telescope ever made is finally gathering fresh clues relating to questions we could only dream of answering with its predecessors.

The JWST allows us to peer further into the universe’s distant past than ever before thanks to its special combination of capabilities. As an infrared observatory with a massive mirror floating beyond the orbit of the moon, it can collect light from the faintest, most distant stars and galaxies – light that has been stretched into infrared wavelengths after travelling through expanding space for billions of years. It sees these objects in exquisite detail due to its unrivalled angular resolution. Its infrared spectrograph also means we can characterise molecules lurking in the atmospheres of potentially habitable exoplanets.

The data we’re now receiving from the JWST will help us to unravel some of the largest mysteries of the cosmos, from how the first stars and galaxies formed and how fast the universe is expanding to the prospects for extraterrestrial life.

Here we examine seven of the biggest questions the JWST is expected to shed new light on, focusing on specific projects that have been granted time in its first observation cycle, to reveal precisely how this …

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