The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), named after the second NASA administrator who was the major driving force behind the Apollo moon missions, is scheduled to be launched on Halloween (31 October) 2021.

It is a joint effort lead by NASA with the ESA and the CSA with over 1,200 engineers, scientists and technicians from 14 countries and has a budget tag of over A$12 billion. 

When launched, it will be the most powerful time machine ever built by humans and will detect light that has travelled the universe for more than 13 billion years.

It comprises a 18-segment primary mirror built out of beryllium which is lightweight and can withstand the extreme cold temperature of -226C, temperatures that it will experience at its L2 orbit, 1.5 million km away (four times further away than the moon) where the gravity of the earth will balance that of the sun.

The effective 6.5m diameter primary mirror is fully coated with a 100nm gold layer (1000 times thinner than a strand of human hair) to optimise reflections in the near and mid infra-red wavelengths.

This wavelength regime will be utilised by astronomers through the four onboard instruments of this powerful observatory (100 times more powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope) to study planets of our own solar system to the first generation of galaxies formed in the universe almost 14 billion years ago. 

 JWST with its unprecedented sensitivity in the IR will observe the very first galaxies and stars formed in the universe to show us how these systems were formed and how they evolved with cosmic time to form the majestic grand spirals and elliptical galaxies that we see around our own Milky Way.  

JWST observing in IR will also act like a night vision goggle to cut through the massive clouds of dust in the local universe to show us how stars and planets like our very own are being formed at this very moment.

Will those planets end up having life? JWST will use its state-of-the-art spectrographs to study the atmospheres of planets to detect signs of life, if any.

Did you know?
  • JWST is as big as a tennis court and will be the largest telescope ever sent it to space: need to be folded to fit to the rocket.
  • The five-layer sun shield of JWST will give a sunscreen protection equivalent to 1,000,000 SPF.
  • The mirrors are gold plater to a thickness of 1,000 atoms, the full volume of gold in the 6.5 diameter mirror is only as big as a golf ball.
  • JWST will detect the beat signature of a bumblebee at a distance of the moon and will see details of a five-cent Australian coin at a distance of 40km.

The JWST Laureate science team 

Swinburne astronomers, led by the ARC Laureate Fellow Professor Karl Glazebrook, will utilise the novel data that will be available by the JWST to probe galaxies that are being formed in the first billion years of the universe. By probing deeply into the universe at this epoch, the team will be able to uncover a large variety of galaxies in greater numbers and obtain spectroscopic information (similar to the DNA of galaxies) to determine how these galaxies were formed, what kind of stars and gas they have, and how they evolved in cosmic history to form kind of galaxies that we see around us at present time.

In order to facilitate this scientific endeavour and cope with the large amount of data that will be obtained by the JWST, the Laureate science team will implement novel computational techniques bridging out depth of artificial intelligence and lead collaborative efforts with the computer science groups at Swinburne University. 

The James Webb Australian Data Centre, led by Laureate science team of Professor Karl Glazebrook, will: 

  • conduct JWST master classes to familiarise the Australian and New Zealand community in JWST observing techniques and tools
  • develop user applications (web tools and apps) to streamline data reduction and analysis processes of JWST data product
  • provide user support to the Australian and New Zealand community in their preparation of competitive observing proposals 
  • provide assistance in data reduction and analysis
  • support a wide range of JWST activities and facilitate communication between the STScI and the Australia astronomy community.

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