What you’re looking at are human beings assembling humanity’s most advanced space telescope to date. At this very moment, the James Webb Space Telescope (@NASAWebbTelescp) is being assembled. To keep up to date on its progress, you can visit NASA’s dedicated web page on the scope.

Here’s what you should know. 

The James Webb Space Telescope (aka JWST or Webb) will be a large infrared telescope with a 6.5-meter primary mirror, launched on an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana in October 2018, and will be the premier observatory of the next decade, serving thousands of astronomers worldwide. JWST will study every phase in the history of our Universe, ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang, to the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, to the evolution of our own Solar System. Formerly known as the “Next Generation Space Telescope” (NGST); it was renamed in Sept. 2002 after a former NASA administrator, James Webb

JWST is an international collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). The NASA Goddard Space Flight Center is managing the development effort, with the main industrial partner being Northrop Grumman; the Space Telescope Science Institute will operate JWST after launch. Over 1000 people in more than 17 countries are developing the James Webb Space Telescope. Shown above are team members in front of the JWST full-scale model at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Several innovative technologies have been developed for JWST. These include a primary mirror made of 18 separate segments that unfold and adjust to shape after launch. The mirrors are made of ultra-lightweight beryllium. JWST’s biggest feature is a tennis court sized five-layer sunshield that attenuates heat from the Sun more than a million times. The telescope’s four instruments - cameras and spectrometers - have detectors that are able to record extremely faint signals. One instrument (NIRSpec) has programmable microshutters, which enable observation up to 100 objects simultaneously. JWST also has a cryocooler for cooling the mid-infrared detectors of another instrument (MIRI) to a very cold 7 degrees Kelvin so they can work.

Of the myriad of capabilities Webb will have over the now 25 year old Hubble Space Telescope (HST), the most fascinating aspects of the JWST will be all we expect to learn, along with discoveries it will enable of which we couldn’t possibly anticipate. To expand on this further, see the video ‘Beyond Hubble: The James Webb Space Telescope’ (below), courtesy of Coconut Science Laboratory:

Although there’s so much more to say about the JWST, I recommend visiting http://jwst.nasa.gov/ to browse the trove of resources available. And because @nasa prides itself on being a transparent and inclusive organization, everyone can view the past and present progress being made through the live web cams which provide fresh views every 60 seconds! 

Watch the Webb In Progress

Share this with everyone! We are all crew members aboard this terrestrial spaceship, and although we all share the same window to the universe, not everyone has the influences around them to assist in helping refine their questions, and ultimately, change their perspective regarding their ‘place in space’. Every person you reach and inform about the incredible science that’s being done around our busy world, the immeasurable impact you could have on their life and the subsequent lives they influence. Engage and educate! 

– Rich @sagansense 

 Still curious about JWST? Take a 3D tour and explore it for yourself!

The James Webb Space Telescope

Like your backyard telescope, just MUCH more powerful

In 2018, we’re launching the world’s biggest space telescope ever - the James Webb Space Telescope. Webb will look back in time, studying the very first galaxies ever formed. While Webb doesn’t have a tube like your typical backyard telescope, because it’s also a reflector telescope it has many of the same parts! Webb has mirrors (including a primary and a secondary) just like a small reflector telescope, only its mirrors are massive (6.5 meters across) and coated in gold (which helps us reflect infrared light).

How does a reflector telescope work? Light is bounced from the primary to the smaller secondary mirror, and then directed to your eye:

Webb works pretty much the same way!

Taking the place of your eye to the eyepiece is a package of science instruments, including cameras and spectrographs, which will capture the light directed into them by the telescope’s mirrors.    

In order to install these instruments, we had to move the telescope structure upside down… an impressive sight!

Once Webb was in place on the assembly stand in the cleanroom, the team at Goddard Space Flight Center installed the instrument module (which we call the ISIM, or Integrated Science Instrument Module), with surgical precision. ISIM has four instruments, three of which were contributed by our partners, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency

All four will detect infrared light from stars and galaxies as far away as 13.6 billion light years. In addition to seeing these first sources of light in the early Universe, Webb will look at stars and planetary systems being formed in clouds of dust and gas. It will also examine the atmospheres of planets around other stars – perhaps we will find an atmosphere similar to Earth’s!

Here is an image with the science instruments being lowered into their spot behind the primary mirror. You can see the golden mirror is face-down.

Here’s another perspective of the instruments being fit into the telescope. 

What you’ve seen come together above is just the telescope part of the James Webb Space Telescope mission – next comes putting together the rest of the observatory. This includes our massive tennis court-sized sunshield (which acts like the tube-part of your backyard telescope, protecting the mirrors from stray light and heat), as well as the parts that do things like power the telescope and let us communicate with it.

It actually takes several weeks for Webb to completely unfold into its full deployment!

Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for updates on our progress. You can also visit our site for more information: http://jwst.nasa.gov

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com

Photo Credit #1: NASA/Chris Gunn. Photo Credit #2: NASA/Desiree Stover


Golden Eyes of James Webb Space Telescope unveiled.

For the first time in the telescope’s construction, the 18 gold-plated hexagonal mirrors of the James Webb Space Telescope were revealed for the first time April 26.

Ever since the mirrors were shipped to Goddard for integration, they were protected with black coverings. Technicians assembled the primary mirror from November 2015 to February 2016, marking the most distinctive period of the spacecraft’s construction.

Each mirror measures 4.2 feet across, and the 18 together give the telescope a lens of over 20 feet. In order to enhance the Infrared spectrum of the telescope, a thin layer of Beryllium is added to each mirror segment, giving them a distinctive Gold tint.

The James Webb Space Telescope is scheduled for an October, 2018 launch on an Ariane 5 rocket from the Guiana Space Center in South America.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center has a webcam located in the assembly cleanroom for those who are curious to watch the telescope’s construction in real-time.


It’s Hanko de Mayo!

It’s Hanko de Mayo! We all know Hank loves the James Webb Space Telescope, so hopefully he’ll like our gift. In addition to his gift, nerdfighteria is celebrating Hank’s birthday by letting our elected officials know that Increasing Awesome through scientific exploration is important to us. You’ll find the email I wrote my congressperson and senators below. You can copy it, amend it, or write your own. Here’s how:


Find your congressional representative here:


And your senators here:


Click through to their contact pages to email them.


I do not know how to email your representatives, but I do know that it is possible in every democratic country, and since the James Webb Space Telescope is a collaboration among many nations, it’s likely that your government is involved. So let them know how much space exploration and science funding matter to you!

Here’s my letter:

Dear Congressman Carson,

My name is John Green. I’m a voter in your district, and I’m contacting you to ask that you work to increase federal government support for NASA and other scientific initiatives. NASA projects like the James Webb Space Telescope offer us the opportunity to understand the very beginning of our universe. For centuries, government-backed scientific programs have improved the lives of every person on the planet, and they are a gift to every person who will live after us. It’s vital that the United States lead the world in increasing awesome through scientific exploration and discovery. So please support NASA and projects like the James Webb Space Telescope.

It’s a big universe. And it is our privilege and responsibility as human beings to work to understand and appreciate it.

Best wishes,

John Green

HUGE thanks to everyone at NASA and Northrop Grumman who made Hank’s present possible, especially Ron Birk, Charlie Atkinson, and Rolf Danner. And thanks to Michael Gardner at ecogeek for facilitating the whole process. Happy Hanko de Mayo!


Biomimicry at its finest.

For the uninitiated, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) - due to launch in 2018 - is a 6.5 meter telescope which will peer 13.5 billion years into the early universe, revealing the meticulous formation and cosmic evolution of stars and galaxies. JWST’s infrared capability will permit insight into the birth of planetary and stellar systems within the densely opaque interstellar dust clouds which visible-light observatories - such as the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) - cannot provide.

The JWST will aid in the search for life in the universe by analyzing the atmospheres of extrasolar planets or, planetary bodies orbiting stars outside our solar system. Understanding the atmospheric chemical composition of other atmospheres will guide our roughly 13.8-14.5 billion year quest to find the building blocks of life in the universe.

An international collaboration between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), European Space Agency (ESA), and Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the JWST will be managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), Northrop Grumman, and after launch, the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), which also currently operates the Hubble Space Telescope as a part of John Hopkins University.

The scientific instrumentation and technological implementation integrated into JWST is easily accessible through NASA’s “Explore James Webb Space Telescope” page, an interactive headquarters with the status of JWST’s development, photos/animation/videos, recent news publications, and more.

The “James Webb” in James Webb Space Telescope serves as a respectful ode to NASA’s former second administrator - James E. Webb - an influential proponent for space science throughout and beyond the Apollo program. When chosen to be administrator for NASA, Webb is quoted as saying, “I’m not going to run a program that’s just a one-shot program. If you want me to be the administrator, it’s going to be a balanced program that does the job for the country….”

From NASA’s “Explore JWST” page (where you can learn much more) regarding James E. Webb’s importance to the project:

As NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe said when he announced the new name for the next generation space telescope, It is fitting that Hubble’s successor be named in honor of James Webb. Thanks to his efforts, we got our first glimpses at the dramatic landscape of outer space. He took our nation on its first voyages of exploration, turning our imagination into reality. Indeed, he laid the foundations at NASA for one of the most successful periods of astronomical discovery. As a result, we’re rewriting the textbooks today with the help of the Hubble Space Telescope , the Chandra X-ray Observatory , and the James Webb Telescope.

So what’s with the obsessive hexagonal construction inside honeybees’ hives? And why is this honeycomb structure of relative importance to the design of the James Webb Space Telescope and its functionality? NPR Science Correspondent Robert Krulwich explains via the NPR blogpost “What Is It About Bees And Hexagons?”

JWST is one of the most ambitious projects since the deployment and servicing missions of the Hubble Space Telescope. The difference between the two, however, is the James Webb Space Telescope will remain in stable orbit around the sun at Lagrange Point “L2”, which will not permit a spacecraft rendezvous (right now) barring any problems with the hardware. Just as the Apollo 13 mission serves to remind, “failure is not an option.

While at the 30th Space Symposium, I had the privilege of enjoying a conference session with those responsible for James Webb’s creation, implementation, and ultimately, it’s success and discovery: Blake Bullock, Director, Civil Air and Space, Business & Advanced Systems Development - Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems; Dave Gallagher, Director for Astronomy, Physics and Space Technology - NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory; John M. Grunsfeld, Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate - NASA; Matt Mountain, Director, Space Telescope Science Institute; John C. Mather, Senior Project Scientist, James Webb Space Telescope - NASA; and Sara Seager, Professor of Planetary Science and Physics - Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It was by far one of the most inspiring discussions regarding the future I’ve experienced thus far.

I encourage everyone to watch National Geographic’s informative and 4-minute brief video “Building the Largest Space Telescope Ever for a wonderful introduction to this monumental human effort.

Recommended: my archive specific to JWST.


The future of astronomy: NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope

“If JWST works as expected, it’s carrying enough fuel on-board that it should operate from 2018 through 2028, and although it’s never been done, the potential exists for a robotic (or crewed, if the technology gets developed by then) re-fueling mission to L2, which could increase the telescope’s lifetime by another decade. Just as Hubble’s been in operation for 25 years and counting, JWST could give us a generation of revolutionary science if things work out as well as they could. It’s the future of astronomy, and after more than a decade of hard work, it’s almost time to come to fruition.”

In 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched and deployed, becoming the first space-based observatory. In the years since, many others have followed, covering the entire electromagnetic spectrum, but with nothing superseding Hubble over the wavelengths it covers. That will all change with the James Webb Space Telescope, currently on schedule and almost ready for its October 2018 launch date. The science instruments are all complete, the final mirrors are being inserted into the optical assembly, the sunshield (a new, innovative component) is almost complete, and then it just needs assembly and launch. When it’s all said and done, JWST will be orders of magnitude greater than all the other observatories that came before, and will finally allow us to truly see the first stars, galaxies and quasars in the Universe, not limited by the obscuring neutral gas that currently blocks our view with other observatories.

Engineers Clean Mirror with Carbon Dioxide Snow by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope
Via Flickr:
Just like drivers sometimes use snow to clean their car mirrors in winter, two Exelis Inc. engineers are practicing "snow cleaning’" on a test telescope mirror for the James Webb Space Telescope at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. By shooting carbon dioxide snow at the surface, engineers are able to clean large telescope mirrors without scratching them. "The snow-like crystals (carbon dioxide snow) knock contaminate particulates and molecules off the mirror," said Lee Feinberg, NASA optical telescope element manager. This technique will only be used if the James Webb Space Telescope’s mirror is contaminated during integration and testing. The Webb telescope is the scientific successor to NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. It will be the most powerful space telescope ever built. With a mirror seven times as large as Hubble’s and infrared capability, Webb will be capturing light from 13.5 billion light years away. To do this, its mirror must be kept super clean. "Small dust particles or molecules can impact the science that can be done with the Webb," said Feinberg. "So cleanliness especially on the mirrors is critical." Webb is an international project led by NASA with its partners, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency. Image credit: NASA/Chris Gunn Text credit: Laura Betz, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland

Simulating the Universe from the Beginning of Time

Things were different in the early eons of the universe. The cosmos experienced rapid inflation; electrons and protons floated free from each other; the universe transitioned from complete darkness to light; and enormous stars formed and exploded to start a cascade of events leading to our present-day universe.

Milos Milosavljevic, Associate Professor of Astronomy at the University of Texas, and colleagues recently reported the results of several massive numerical simulations charting the forces of the universe in its first hundreds of millions of years using some of the world’s most powerful supercomputers, including the National Science Foundation-supported Stampede, Lonestar and Ranger systems at the Texas Advanced Computing Center.

Continue Reading

Can Pollution Be The Key To Detecting Alien Life?

As astronomers continue their visual exploration of the universe, they also teach us different concepts and methods of understanding what we’re seeing. Using the human race and our Earth as the primary example, it turns out we’re actually quite a loud species. Wireless signals being transmitted all around the world are now the norm which would otherwise be considered alien to a person from a couple hundred years ago. The same can be said for the footprint the human race is creating on this planet, our pollution.

“We consider industrial pollution as a sign of intelligent life, but perhaps civilizations more advanced than us, with their own SETI programs, will consider pollution as a sign of unintelligent life since it’s not smart to contaminate your own air,” says Harvard student and lead author Henry Lin.

A group of theorists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics believe that since we already have a limited ability to detect the make-up of an exoplanet’s atmosphere, we could possibly use that ability to search for planets that give off signatures that would indicate the presence of atmospheric contaminants, more specifically CFCs. Though this would be a tough feat to accomplish, the Harvard group believes that the James Webb Space Telescope would be the proper piece of equipment for the job. The group believes that it could be possible that an advanced civilization would intentionally pollute a planet that might otherwise be too cold to support life even if it contained the right elements, among many other possibilities. This method could also allow astronomers to detect the remains of a civilization that died out long ago. There are certain pollutants that can last up to 50,000 years and others that last only a decade. The presence of long term pollutants and absence of short term pollutants on a planet can indicate a civilization once inhabited it.

“In that case, we could speculate that the aliens wised up and cleaned up their act. Or in a darker scenario, it would serve as a warning sign of the dangers of not being good stewards of our own planet,” says the study’s co-author, Avi Loeb.

IMAGE CREDIT: Christine Pulliam (CfA, artist rendition of an Earth-like planet with widespread pollution)


The limit of what Hubble can see

“Whereas Hubble struggles to get to wavelengths as long as one micron, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will get all the way down to about 30 microns with better sensitivity than anything else that’s come before, with better resolution and some six times the light-gathering power of Hubble!”

You might think that, when it comes to finding the most distant objects in the Universe, all we need is a good telescope, to leave the shutter open, and wait. As we accumulate more and more photons, we’re bound to find the most distant, faint objects out there. Sure, Hubble just broke its own cosmic distance record, but it’s certainly not the most distant. Thinking so misses an important fact: the Universe is expanding! And with that expansion, the wavelength of the light we can see gets redshifted. Ultraviolet light winds up in the infrared, infrared light winds up in the microwave, and the most distant galaxies that are out there are invisible, even to Hubble. Here are Hubble’s limits, and how the James Webb Space Telescope will overcome them.


How will the giant Webb telescope fit inside its rocket

Webb’s mirrors and sunshield will be folded to fit inside the Ariane 5 rocket’s payload fairing, which will take it to its new home 932,000 miles from Earth, more than three times the distance of the Moon from Earth. In comparison, the Hubble Space Telescope is in near-Earth orbit, approximately 350 miles above the ground.

The Webb telescope will be launched from the Arianespace’s ELA-3 launch complex near Kourou, French Guiana, located in South America. Being near Earth’s equator, this launch site will take advantage of the rotation of the Earth, imparting an extra boost to the rocket, helping to send it into orbit and on to its ultimate destination.

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope: A Year of Achievement and Success

The James Webb Space Telescope marked a year of significant progress in 2011 as it continues to come together as NASA’s next generation space telescope.

The year brought forth a pathfinder backplane to support the large primary mirror structure, mirror cryotesting, creation of mirror support structures, several successful sunshield layer tests and the creation of an assembly station within NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s cleanroom.

Achievements were also made in the areas of flight and communications software and the propulsion system.