The most powerful space telescope ever built will look back in time to the dark ages of the universe

The most powerful space telescope ever built will look back in time to the dark ages of the universe
Hubble took pictures of the oldest galaxies it could – seen here – but the James Webb Space Telescope can go back much farther in time. (Image credit: NASA)

This article was originally published at The Conversation. The publication contributed the article to Space.com’s Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

Chris Impey, University Distinguished Professor of Astronomy, University of Arizona

Some have called NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope the “telescope that ate astronomy.” It is the most powerful space telescope ever built and a complex piece of mechanical origami that has pushed the limits of human engineering. On Dec. 18, 2021, after years of delays and billions of dollars in cost overruns, the telescope is scheduled to launch into orbit and usher in the next era of astronomy.

I’m an astronomer with a specialty in observational cosmology. I’ve been studying distant galaxies for 30 years. Some of the biggest unanswered questions about the universe relate to its early years just after the Big Bang. When did the first stars and galaxies form? Which came first, and why? I am incredibly excited that astronomers may soon uncover the story of how galaxies started because James Webb was built specifically to answer these very questions.

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