The Hubble Space Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) are two of the most revolutionary space telescopes ever built. While the Hubble has been in operation for over three decades, the JWST is set to launch in 2021. In this article, we’ll take a look at the differences between the two telescopes and how they complement each other in advancing our understanding of the Universe.
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- Size and Design: The Hubble has a 2.4-meter (7.9 ft) primary mirror, while the JWST has a 6.5-meter (21 ft) primary mirror. The larger mirror of the JWST allows it to collect more light and observe fainter objects than the Hubble. The JWST is also optimized for infrared observations, which allows it to see through dust clouds that obscure visible light.
- Operating Location: The Hubble orbits around the Earth at an altitude of 540 kilometers (330 miles), while the JWST will be positioned at the second Lagrange point (L2), located approximately 1.5 million kilometers (930,000 miles) away from Earth. This position allows the JWST to have an unobstructed view of the cosmos and a more stable environment for observations.
- Scientific Capabilities: The Hubble is capable of observing the Universe in visible, ultraviolet, and near-infrared wavelengths of light. In comparison, the JWST is optimized for observing in the infrared range, and it has four scientific instruments designed to observe the Universe in different wavelengths. This allows the JWST to study the early Universe, the formation and evolution of galaxies, and the formation of stars and planetary systems.
- Discovery Potential: Both telescopes have made groundbreaking discoveries and have revolutionized our understanding of the Universe. The Hubble has made numerous discoveries, including the confirmation of dark energy, the detection of supermassive black holes, and the discovery of water on planets outside our Solar System. The JWST is expected to make even more groundbreaking discoveries, such as observing the first galaxies that formed in the early Universe, detecting the atmospheres of potentially habitable exoplanets, and studying the formation of stars and planetary systems.
- Complementarity: The Hubble and the JWST are complementary telescopes that work together to advance our understanding of the Universe. The Hubble has provided a wealth of data and observations that have paved the way for the JWST’s more advanced capabilities. The two telescopes will work together to study the Universe in a more comprehensive manner, allowing us to answer some of the most fundamental questions about our origins and our place in the cosmos.
- Cost: The Hubble cost approximately $2.5 billion to build and launch, while the JWST has a total cost of around $10 billion. The increased cost of the JWST is due to its larger size, more advanced technology, and more complex design.
- Lifespan: The Hubble has been in operation for over 30 years, and its mission has been extended several times. The JWST is designed to have a lifespan of at least 10 years, with the potential for extension. However, because the JWST will be positioned much farther from Earth than the Hubble, it will be more difficult to service or repair.
- Engineering: The engineering behind the JWST is more complex than that of the Hubble, due to the more extreme conditions it will encounter in space. For example, the sunshield of the JWST is designed to protect the telescope from the intense heat of the Sun, and it is made up of five layers of material that are each as thin as a human hair.
- Data Transmission: The Hubble transmits its data to Earth using a high-bandwidth radio link, while the JWST will use a laser communications system to transmit data. This will allow the JWST to transmit data at a faster rate than the Hubble, and it will also allow for more efficient use of available bandwidth.
- Imaging Capabilities: While both telescopes are capable of taking stunning images of the cosmos, the JWST will have a wider field of view than the Hubble, allowing it to observe larger regions of the sky at once. Additionally, the JWST’s ability to observe in the infrared range will allow it to capture images of objects that are otherwise invisible to the Hubble.
- Observing Time: The Hubble is a heavily oversubscribed telescope, meaning that the demand for observing time greatly exceeds the available time. The JWST is also expected to be oversubscribed, but its larger size and more advanced capabilities may allow it to handle a greater volume of observing requests.
In conclusion, the Hubble Space Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope are both revolutionary space telescopes that have made and will continue to make groundbreaking discoveries in astronomy. While the Hubble has provided us with a wealth of information, the JWST’s more advanced capabilities and optimized design for infrared observations will allow us to see the Universe in a whole new way. Together, these two telescopes will provide us with a comprehensive understanding of the cosmos and our place within it.