Science

NASA Unveils James Webb Telescope At SXSW

By Pierre Dumont , Mar 11, 2013 03:19 PM EDT

With all the talk about SpaceX these days, we don't seem to hear as much from the nation's pioneering space agency. But NASA showed off Hubble's successor, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), at SXSW this past weekend in Austin, Texas.

A to-scale model of the telescope was made available for viewing to over 30,000 attendees at the festival. NASA also set up an information center next to the model on the front lawn of the Long Center for the Performing Arts. Those interested in looking at the model were able to see a variety of its materials, including the super-thin sheets that make up the heat shield.

NASA brought the telescope model to SXSW to boost science and engineering interest in younger participants. As part of this effort, they also included hands-on demonstrations and descriptions of the telescope.

The JWST comes with a slew of new capabilities, all of which NASA has high hopes for as it pursues its goals in space exploration. Named after NASA's second administrator James Webb, the new device is 100 times more powerful than the Hubble telescope.  While Hubble can only pick up light that is visible, the JWST can trace both visible and infrared light. Its mirror is seven times larger than Hubble's and has a sharper imaging and light-collecting process. It is so powerful that it will allow us to see some of the earliest-forming stars, going all the way back to the Big Bang. It will even have atmospheric analysis capabilities that will help with NASA's search for Earth-like planets.

"The mission is primarily to see the first light created after the Big Bang," says Program Manager for JWST at Northrop Grumman Scott Willoughby. "That light is very far back in the distance; and you see farther back in time the farther away you look."

The telescope is about the size of a Boeing 737 and will be folded for easy fitting into the rocket. Team member Dr. John Mather described it as, "a kind of origami telescope." The Hubble has been in use since 1990 and the Webb is scheduled to launch in 2018.

Want to see the JWST being built? Check out NASA's live webcam here, where you can see the construction in action.

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