New telescope to shed light on 'Dark Ages'

Updated on May 11, 2007 02:42 PM IST
Nasa plans to launch a 'next generation' telescope soon which will help to know how planets were first formed or is there life beyond earth.
HT Image
HT Image
IANS | By, Washington

For astronomers the Dark Ages represent the far-flung corners of the universe about which precious little is known, and which could yet hold the key to how planets were first formed. NASA hopes a "next generation" telescope slated for launch in 2013 will shed light on the question.

The James Webb Space Telescope, named after a former NASA administrator, is a joint project with the European and Canadian space agencies and a collection of private defence contractors.

Three key officials involved in the project offered an update on Thursday under a life-size model of the telescope, displayed outside the National Air and Space Museum in Washington.

Scientists hope the Webb observatory will help answer two of the biggest questions we have about space - how did it all start? And could there be life on other planets?

Its predecessor, the Hubble telescope, delivered some of the first major insights into the universe's formation after it was launched in 1990. Yet its findings surprised astronomers: faraway galaxies that were expected to offer a glimpse of the very early universe turned out to be much more developed, meaning even they were formed long after the Big Bang, when astronomers believe the universe originated.

In other words, to really get to the heart of the universe - to spot those distant galaxies that were formed first - NASA was going to need an even better set of binoculars.

"We needed a new telescope to see the very birth ... to see the first light of the universe," said Edward Weiler, director of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland, and formerly the chief scientist on Hubble.

And so while Hubble got things started, astronomers hope the Webb telescope will offer the "first view into this strange period we call the Dark Ages," said Matt Mountain, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. Mountain headed scientific operations on Hubble and now on Webb.

The Webb telescope, Mountain said, could examine the planet's atmosphere more closely for signs of the water, oxygen and carbon that are crucial for the existence of life.

The new telescope will have one large mirror about 6.5 metres wide - double the size yet half the weight of Hubble's - and a secondary, smaller mirror in front of it.

The Webb telescope will be placed in orbit on the other side of the moon, at one of the few spots in space where the earth and sun remain in line, known to astronomers as the second Lagrange point. That will allow the mirror to block rays from the earth, moon and sun.

The project has been in the works since 1994 - four years after Hubble went into space - and, unlike when Hubble was first due to launch, most of the groundwork has already been completed. The technology has been developed.

Hubble was a different story. NASA had been so confident about the earlier telescope's potential that by the time it was first projected to launch in 1983, some of the device's components had not yet been invented. The task of keeping the project going "at full speed" for another seven years meant major cost overruns, said Weiler.

At $4.5 billion, Webb is nearly half as costly as Hubble would have been at today's rates - it cost $1.6 billion two decades ago - but many times more powerful.

Close Story

Less time to read?

Try Quickreads

  • Author Salman Rushdie, behind screen left, is tended to after he was attacked during a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, New York.

    Salman Rushdie ‘off ventilator and talking’, day after attack, says agent

    Salman Rushdie has been taken off the ventilator and is able to talk, said his book agent Andrew Wylie, a day after The Satanic Verses author was stabbed at an event in New York. Rushdie remained hospitalized with serious injuries, but fellow author Aatish Taseer had tweeted late evening that he was “off the ventilator and talking (and joking).” Rushdie's agent confirmed the information Associated Press without giving further details.

  • President Joe Biden. (File image)

    US President Biden expresses shock at ‘vicious attack’ on Salman Rushdie

    US President Joe Biden expressed shock over the "vicious attack" on Salman Rushdie and said that he pray for his health and recovery. White House termed the attack on Salman Rushdie as "appalling" and said that the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris Administration is praying for a speedy recovery of the renowned author. Hadi Matar, who is suspected of stabbing an Indian-born-British author in western New York State on Friday morning during a lecture was arraigned in centralized arraignment on Saturday and was remanded without bail at Chautauqua County Jail. A suspect has been taken into custody.

  • Hadi Matar, 24, center, listens to his public defense attorney Nathaniel Barone, left, addresses the judge while being arraigned in the Chautauqua County Courthouse in Mayville, New York.

    Author Salman Rushdie’s attacker pleads not guilty to attempted murder

    A 24-year old New Jersey man charged with attempted murder and assault for attacking author Salman Rushdie has pleaded not guilty. Hadi Matar of Fairview, New Jersey was arraigned in centralised arraignment on Saturday and was remanded without bail at Chautauqua County Jail. Authorities with New York State Police told PTI that Matar pleaded not guilty and was held in the Chautauqua County Jail.

  • Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old man, who stabbed Mumbai-born author Salman Rushdie in New York on Friday.

    Salman Rushdie's attacker Hadi Matar charged with attempted murder, assault

    Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old New Jersey man who stabbed Mumbai-born author Salman Rushdie in New York on Friday, has been charged with 'attempted murder and assault in the second degree', the Chautauqua Country district attorney's office said on Saturday. Matar was born and raised in the US, the head of the local municipality, Ali Qassem Tahfa, told news agency AFP. Rushdie remained hospitalised in serious condition.

  • Healthcare and LGBTQ rights activists hold a rally outside the San Francisco Federal Building in San Francisco, US, to demand an increase in monkeypox vaccines and treatments as the outbreak continues to spread. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/AFP)

    Monkeypox: WHO creates forum, asks public to propose new name for virus

    The WHO has been in the process of renaming monkeypox since June alongside other efforts to urge the global community not to have any stereotypes around it. The zoonotic disease is disproportionately affecting men in sexual relationships with men and spreads via close contact.

Story Saved
Saved Articles
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Sunday, August 14, 2022
Start 15 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now