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A million miles away: UArizona and ASU await the first images from new Webb telescope

The Webb Telescope hopes to give the images of the first stars and galaxies to get a better idea of where we come from.

PHOENIX — A mission 25 years in the making is almost complete. The James Webb Space Telescope has completed its nearly million-mile journey and may begin the process of setting up to shoot images as early as Thursday evening.

The $10 billion telescope can collect 6x the light of its predecessor,
the Hubble Space Telescope.

"Which means it can see much fainter and further away objects,” Marcia Rieke, UArizona Regents Professor of Astronomy, said.

Rieke has been on the Webb project for 24 years. She helped design the telescope's infrared camera that will stare into the far reaches of space.

"When I thought back to the time I was a grad student, I never thought I would do something like this," Rieke said.

The Webb Telescope is so large it has to be folded like origami in the rocket and then unfolded in space which has never been done before.

Now that the telescope is in place, it will need to be powered up before going through the months-long process of arranging its 18 mirrors.

Once setup is complete, experts expect to see more than they ever had before.

"It goes back to our own origin" Rolf Jansen, Research Scientist at ASU, said.
Jansen has spent two decades working on the project. He said the telescope should give them a chance to see the first galaxies and stars.

He said the images should give us a better perspective of how we got here.

“How did these places come to be from what are the circumstances that allowed the sun to form? The earth around the sun,” Jansen said.

However, the most significant benefit may come from something scientists do not expect. “The most significant discoveries will not be for the ones it was built,” Jansen said.

The Hubble Telescope helped spark a new wave of understanding of our place in the universe. 

Scientists hope the Webb Telescope follows in its predecessor's footsteps, providing a new perspective for the next generation of students.

"They will know what to ask based on the images we get right now," Jansen said.


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