One year from this very moment, you’ll be hearing a lot about the launch of a new NASA telescope.
This telescope will change what we know about space.
The James Webb telescope has the power to find a planet just like Earth and the potential to explain how the Earth formed.
NASA Scientist and Reading native Dr. Eric Smith says the telescope will let us see near-Earth objects with a sharpness and clarity we’ve never seen before, and we’ll see farther into space than we’ve able be able to see before.
Eric’s excited that the James Webb Telescope will discover planets outside of our solar system: “It will find one that’s probably habitable, in that it has an atmosphere like Earth, and at some point in the not too distant future, you’ll be able to walk out and look up at the night sky and say you see that star over there? It has a planet we could live on.”
Think about that – we have the technology to discover a new Earth.
Eric says he and his colleagues will be doing a little bit of meteorology on exoplanets by finding out what’s in their atmospheres.
When a planet is outside of our solar system, it’s called an exoplanet. These are planets orbit their own sun.
But, the light from a exoplanet’s sun is the is the key for unlocking what’s in that planet’s air.
Scientists will study this sunlight.
Then, they’ll wait for the planet to move between the James Webb Telescope and its sun. When the planet moves in front of the telescope and blocks out sunlight, scientists will know what air it has. That’s because air affects how light travels.
“By seeing where the light is subtracted, as it goes through [that planet’s] atmosphere, we’ll be able to tell what the atmosphere is made of. We’ll look for things like water and carbon dioxide [in the sunlight data]” says Eric.And the telescope won’t just find planets, it’ll also find ‘a galaxy far, far away’ to quote Star Wars. A galaxy that has solar systems forming.
A galaxy is a collection of planets orbiting stars. So, if scientists watch planets like Earth form and watch galaxies like our Milky Way Galaxy form, they’ll unlock how Earth formed.
This telescope has the power to re-write our understanding of space because, as Eric puts it: “the telescope will let us watch the universe turn the lights on.”