The most powerful telescope ever built is expected to launch on December 25. The James Webb Space Telescope will peer into the atmospheres of exoplanets, some of which are potentially habitable, and look deeper into the universe than we’ve ever been able to before.
This mission has been decades in the making. The concept for the telescope was first imagined as a successor to Hubble in 1989, and construction began in 2004. Now, Webb, which is 100 times more powerful than Hubble, is ready to launch.
CNN asked readers what you want to know about the telescope and its mission.
We sent those questions to the experts: Sara Seager, a planetary scientist and astrophysicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Matt Mountain, Webb’s telescope scientist; and NASA’s Stefanie Milam, the JWST deputy project scientist for planetary science.
Here’s what they said.
How much did the telescope cost to make?
Stefanie Milam: To build, launch and commission the Webb telescope, it cost NASA $8.8 billion. When you include operation costs, it brings the total bill to more than $9.66 billion.
How long did the telescope take to build?
Milam: In the late ’80s, Webb moved from an idea to a real mission concept.
In 1996, there was a formal recommendation to build a space-based infrared telescope.
In 2004, construction began and was completed in 2019 with the final assembly of the parts.
What are the telescope’s main tasks?
Matt Mountain: This is the most complex telescope ever built, so first it must work.
Second, we want to peer more deeply into parts of the universe we have never seen. We want to be able to look back in time to see how the first stars and galaxies came into existence. We want to see how stars are formed into molecular clouds.
Then we want to explore nearby stars that have planets to see if we can find water on their surface. This is the first sign that there may be life there.