On December 25, 2021 at 1:20 PM GMT+1, NASA launched the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the successor to the hugely successful Hubble Space Telescope. With its advanced technology and capabilities, the JWST is set to be the most powerful space telescope ever built, capable of studying a wide range of phenomena in the universe, from the atmospheres of exoplanets to the most distant galaxies. But what makes the JWST so unique and capable of such groundbreaking science? 

Mission and Objectives

The JWST has a number of scientific objectives, including the study of the birth and evolution of galaxies, the formation and evolution of stars and planetary systems, and the search for the building blocks of life in the universe. To achieve these objectives, the JWST is equipped with a suite of highly advanced instruments, including a near-infrared camera, a near-infrared spectrograph, and a mid-infrared instrument. These instruments will allow the JWST to study the universe in wavelengths of light that are difficult to detect from the ground, including infrared light. 

Technology and Capabilities

One of the key features of the JWST is its large, segmented primary mirror, which is made up of 18 hexagonal mirrors that work together to gather light from distant objects. The JWST also has a sunshield, made up of five layers of thin, highly reflective material, which keeps the telescope's instruments at a stable temperature and protects them from the sun's heat. The sunshield was one of the major technological challenges of the JWST project, as it had to be able to withstand extreme temperature fluctuations and maintain its shape in the harsh environment of space.
In addition to its primary mirror and sunshield, the JWST is equipped with a propulsion system and a guidance and control system, which allow it to orient itself and make small adjustments to its position as needed. The JWST was launched aboard an Ariane 5 rocket from the Guiana Space Centre in French Guiana, and is now orbiting about 1.5 million kilometers (1 million miles) from the Earth.

Scientific Impact and Expectations

The JWST is expected to have a significant impact on our understanding of the universe and the phenomena it contains. Its advanced capabilities will allow it to observe some of the most distant and faint objects in the universe, giving us a glimpse into the early stages of the universe's history. It will also be able to study the atmospheres of exoplanets, which will help us to understand the conditions necessary for the development of life beyond our own planet.
In addition to its scientific impact, the JWST is also expected to have practical applications in a number of fields, including medicine and environmental science. Its ability to detect small amounts of chemical compounds could be used to identify and track pollutants in the Earth's atmosphere, for example.