(by Troy Linthicum Daily Lobo)
Ever wonder what it would be like to look back in time just after the Big Bang, or view planets orbiting other stars?

Well, that’s what might be coming in a few years, and scientists are more than antsy.

Replacing the aging Hubble, the James Webb Space Telescope will see farther into space than any telescope in human history, and it will view galaxy formation just after the Big Bang. With a 10-fold advantage over its predecessor, scientists predict the Webb Space Telescope will lead to discoveries that haven’t been imagined.

“It’s the first glimpses of the universe, the primordial gas of the early universe,” said Peter Zimmer, a research assistant professor for the UNM Physics and Astronomy department. “Even more than Hubble, the capabilities of the Webb will shape astronomy for decades.”

Zimmer explained that the Webb will use infrared instruments to look through areas of space the Hubble can’t penetrate.

When scientists use telescopes to look at distant objects, they are actually looking back in time, because the light emitted from the objects travels at a constant speed (the speed of light) toward Earth, so we see them as they were millions or even billions of years ago.

With a sunshade the size of a tennis court keeping the instruments cool, a 6.6 meter primary mirror, and six times the light-collecting area of the Hubble, the Webb will peer to the edge of space. Scientists are unsure what it will discover. One thing is for sure: It will drastically change what we know about how the universe formed.

Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 can look out into space and detect redshifts (speeds of objects moving away from us) of galaxies as far as 500 million years after the universe was formed, according to NASA.

With the Webb Space Telescope, scientists will be able to detect redshifts up to 20-180 million years before the Big Bang.

Dmitry Vorobiev, another UNM research assistant professor, said the telescope will lend insight into current and future research.

“Not only will we be able to test current theories developed by the unexpected data from Hubble, we will be able to discover phenomena that we haven’t even imagined yet,” he said.

Funding is the problem with the Webb program, according to SpaceFlightNow.com. Testifying before a U.S. Senate subcommittee Monday, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said the program needs $500 million in additional funding to make the scheduled 2015 launch date. The money isn’t available for 2011 or 2012, but Bolden added that no additional funds were needed to make a delayed launch date of 2018.

What people fail to realize is that many of the things that we use on a daily basis were developed or created by our space program. People don’t think we should spend money on what they call “far-off-space junk” when people are homeless.

But cell phones, Quartz crystal watches and clocks, microwaves and Velcro all came from the space program. Arguably, some of the advances discovered from the Webb eventually might be used to help the homeless, develop life-saving medical equipment and create technologies that could solve social issues.

With the James Webb Space Telescope, scientists from around the world will share research data and solve problems that will shape technologies used not only by crazy-haired physicists, but also the average, everyday person.

Linthicum is a UNM student.

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