“…because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills; because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone.” -John F. Kennedy
The Hubble Space Telescope, for all of its scientific findings and how it revolutionized our understanding of the Universe itself, touched us all in a way that no piece of knowledge could ever encapsulate. In perhaps the greatest find of all, Hubble answered a question that many of us have had on our minds every time we’ve gazed up at a night sky: what does the Universe actually look like?
The full UV-visible-IR composite of the Hubble eXtreme Deep Field; the greatest image ever released of the distant Universe. Image credit: NASA, ESA, H. Teplitz and M. Rafelski (IPAC/Caltech), A. Koekemoer (STScI), R. Windhorst (Arizona State University), and Z. Levay (STScI).
From its images of star-forming regions, stellar deaths, galaxies, gravitational lenses and the deep abyss of empty space, it’s awed us in a way no other observatory ever has. But James Webb is poised to do us one better, and show us something Hubble never could. It will show us how the Universe went from a state with no stars, no planets, and no galaxies to the Universe we know, recognize and inhabit today.
An illustration of CR7, the first galaxy detected that’s thought to house Population III stars: the first stars ever formed in the Universe. JWST will reveal actual images of this galaxy and others like it. Image credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser.