The telescope that will search for the first stars

In the beginning, there was darkness. It’s not a biblical phrase, astronomers say so. It’s called the “dark ages.” It’s the time before the first stars were lit. That time, or traces of that time, have not yet been explored. Until now. But the largest telescope ever put outside the Earth will tell us those secrets. It’s the James Webb. It’s the telescope that will search for the first stars.

The telescope that will search for the first stars has a futuristic design and an ambitious mission.
The telescope that will search for the first stars has a futuristic design and an ambitious mission.

Searching for ancient light

It will see further than the Hubble Space Telescope, which it will replace. It has a 6.5-meter-wide mirror and four highly sensitive instruments. It will focus on a very small area of the sky for days at a time. It will look for traces of light that is older than 13.5 billion years.

“It will just be little red dots,” says Nobel Prize-winning scientist John Mather. “Stars, galaxies, and black holes must have started 100 million years after the Big Bang. There shouldn’t be many to find in that time. But the Webb telescope can see them if they’re there.” ,

When the universe formed in the Big Bang it contained only hydrogen, helium, and lithium. All the other elements had to be forged in stars. We are here because the first stars filled the universe with the materials to make everything.

“Webb’s mission is about the formation of everything. We’re all made of stardust,'” Rebecca Bowler muses. She’s an astronomer at Oxford University. “It’s about the formation of the first atom that ever existed. It’s absolutely amazing that we can watch that process as it’s happening.”

The telescope will probe into the origins of the universe.
The telescope will probe into the origins of the universe.

Tracing the origins

We don’t know much about the first stars. We can use computer models to get a sense of how they work. “All stars follow the rule that the time they can exist is inversely proportional to their mass. The more massive the star, the faster it consumes its fuel. Those early stars could have lasted only a million years or so.” Live fast, die young.

The telescope that will search for the first stars will have other tasks. It will look at almost everything there is to see beyond the Earth. Icy moons, comets, black holes. Webb has been designed to see all its targets in the infrared spectrum. Detect very long wavelengths. They’re invisible to our eyes.

“The light from distant stars is spread out by the expansion of the universe. And it moves into the infrared region of the spectrum. We call it redshift,” explains Richard Ellis. He’s an astronomer at University College London. He’s eager to explore the end of the dark ages. “Hubble doesn’t reach far enough into the infrared spectrum. It’s also not a particularly big telescope.

This is the most technologically advanced telescope in history. It took 10 years to plan, and another 20 years to build. Now, it will bring us closer to a very distant past. And what we’ll see, though very different, will be a mirror of our own existence.

Click to rate this entry!
(Votes: 0 Average: 0)
Share!

Leave a Comment