James Webb Space Telescope

The content below is from Episode 88 of the Who’d a Thunk It? Podcast.


Netflix & Mark Millar Unveil Slate Of Super Crooks Debut, New Spy Series,  Prodigy Scribes + More – Deadline
  • Netflix has a new series out called Super Crooks. It is based on the popular graphic novel of the same name written by legendary Scottish comic writer Mark Millar and illustrated by Filipino artist Leinil Francis Yu.
    • The story follows a band of super powered people who chose to use their powers for heists instead of being heroes. The try to steal jewels and super powered artifacts while battling the Union of Justice (which are basically the knock off Justice League).
    • This story is definitely meant for adults and not kids as there is plenty of gore, substance abuse, sexual content, and cursing lol.
    • Out on Netflix now so check that out.


  • As you are about to find out: I am a total freaking nerd for astronomical discoveries.
    • Space exploration really tickles all of my fancies. Learning about what is out there in the final frontier of space… it just matters.
    • The older and more mature I become I find that a lot of what I thought mattered as a child doesn’t hold much meaning. But when it comes to exploration. That I think is a major part of what makes us human. We are explorers.
    • That’s why this week’s topic really makes my eyes twinkle with wonder.
    • It is time for humanity to dredge up a few more of the universe’s secrets and put them on display for the world to see!
See the source image
  • The James Webb Space Telescope (sometimes called JWST or Webb) is a space telescope being jointly developed by NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency. It is planned to succeed the Hubble Space Telescope as NASA’s Flagship astrophysics mission.
    • The telescope will be a large infrared telescope with a 6.5-meter primary mirror. The telescope will be launched on an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana (South America) in 2021. 
      • The current launch date is set to December 22, 2021 – but as you will see soon, that date is not set in stone.
    • The Webb telescope will be the premier observatory of the next decade, serving thousands of astronomers worldwide. It will study every phase in the history of our Universe, ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang, to the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, to the evolution of our own Solar System.
    • The Webb telescope was formerly known as the “Next Generation Space Telescope” (NGST); (which sounds like a Nerdy Star Trek reference to me). it was renamed in September 2002 after a former NASA administrator, James Webb.
    • NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is managing the development effort. The main industrial partner is Northrop Grumman; the Space Telescope Science Institute will operate Webb after launch.
    • Several innovative technologies have been developed for Webb. These include a primary mirror made of 18 separate segments that unfold and adjust to shape after launch. The mirrors are made of ultra-lightweight beryllium. Webb’s biggest feature is a tennis court sized five-layer sunshield that attenuates heat from the Sun more than a million times. The telescope’s four instruments – cameras and spectrometers – have detectors that are able to record extremely faint signals. One instrument (NIRSpec) has programmable microshutters, which enable observation up to 100 objects simultaneously. Webb also has a cryocooler for cooling the mid-infrared detectors of another instrument (MIRI) to a very cold 7 kelvins (minus 447 Fahrenheit) so they can work.
      • Thats right the optimal operating temperature of these mid-infrared detectors is negative 447 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Cost: 10 billion USD (2016)
    • Why so pricey? well Webb’s stewards believed the telescope could do more than originally envisioned, so they expanded its parameters overtime. As the years passed and the scope of the mission swelled, so did the cost. … Another reason is that Most of the telescope its gold-plated mirrors and scientific instruments. If you google a quick image of the telescope you are sure to see all the pretty gold plating.
    • The massive telescope weighs 14,000 pounds according to
      • the photos do NOT do the size justice. This thing is the size of a tennish court
See the source image
  • There have been some major development issues
    • NASA’s latest big astronomy mission has been in the works for about 25 years now. When the concept was first proposed in 1996 as the successor to the famed Hubble Space Telescope, scientists estimated it would cost $500 million and fly by 2007. But… we know it didn’t go down that way. As scientists worked on the telescope’s design, the world around them began to change. Astronomers were making exhilarating discoveries about the cosmos, and engineers were inventing the technology needed to study them. 
      • To give you a better idea of just how much our understanding of the universe has changed since this project started:
      • 1992: Astronomers didn’t even know for sure that there were planets outside our solar system until 1992. THINK about that. It seems like that discovery is OLD news, but thats just 30 years ago.
      • 1998: Astronomers discover the expansion of the universe is accelerating
      • 2001: The Hubble Space Telescope detected the presence of sodium in the atmosphere of the exoplanet HD 209458 b.  That was the first Atmosphere of an exoplanet detected
      • 2002: Mars Odyssey mission detects presence of water on Mars. This is one of my favorite discoveries as water is main ingredient for life and we found evidence of it on another planet. HOW COOL!
      • 2003: WMAP mission confirms existence of dark matter and dark energy
      • 2006: IAU introduces new definition of planet – that’s when we lost Pluto as a major planet and it got downgraded to a Dwarf Planet.
      • 2016: Gravitational waves from colliding black holes – The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) in the United States with the Virgo observatory in Europe announced the measurement of gravitational waves from colliding black holes. This was direct confirmation of an important prediction from Einstein’s general theory of relativity, that gravitational disturbances send out ripples in spacetime.
      • 2019: The historic image of the supermassive black hole was captured by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) and released in April 2019. The image does not actually show a black hole, which are known for sucking up light, but rather its shadow, a glowing orange ring of ultra-hot gas.
      • So with all those new discoveries, the people behind the Webb project had to keep changing what it was they wanted to observe. They didn’t want their expensive telescope to become obsolete just months after launch, so they kept changing gears so they could get the most out of the James Webb Telescope launch.
Here's the first picture of a black hole | Science News for Students
  • But growing pains weren’t the only reason for developmental issues. Back in 2018, the Webb Telescope project announced that instead of being launched that year it would probably take until Spring of 2021 (which they didn’t make that deadline either). With this delay the cost grew again. The new total meant that Webb had breached a cap set by Congress in 2011, when lawmakers had begun to worry in earnest about the mission’s ballooning costs. Back in 2018 if Webb wanted to leave Earth, it needed Congress to approve an extra $800 million for the mission.
    • And while I don’t typically approve of how things are funded via tax dollars, I am almost always pro-space exploration. I think we humans will never know all the secrets of the Universe, but striving to do so, just might be one of our greatest purposes.
    • Of course they got the money. Even the stingiest of politicians realizes that once you’ve sunk $8Billion into a project you can’t just simply pull the plug on it. You might as well go all in.
  • What is this thing made of? Why is it so expensive? well…
    • Piggy-backing off the hard work of a paid journalist named Gerri Miller from who interviewed an important figure of Webb’s construction I stole a few quotes:
    • “To go to the earliest galaxies, we needed a bigger mirror, and that bigger mirror had to look at a bigger frequency of light,” says astrophysicist Blake Bullock, who is a director at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, the contractor on the project. “It also had to be kept cold — minus 400 degrees Fahrenheit — so it has a sun shield the size of a tennis court that acts as a giant beach umbrella,” she adds. “It’s like SPF 1 million, blocking the sun’s light.”
    • “It is the biggest, most powerful telescope ever to be put in space. There are big telescopes on the ground but nothing of this nature and complexity in space. Hands down, it’s the most powerful thing out there,” Bullock says.
    • “Hubble, when pushed to its maximum, could see galaxies that were teenagers in terms of age. We want to see babies,” Bullock says. “With the Webb, we will be able to see back in time to the earliest objects in the universe for the first time. Also for the first time, we will be able to characterize other planets going around other stars, distant exoplanets, and see if there are oceans, an atmosphere, what chemical elements are there.”
    • “It has the potential to fundamentally rewrite our textbooks because of how dramatically it will increase our view of the cosmos,” Bullock says. “We will be able to get a much better grasp of the universe we live in. Technology-wise, we are already seeing the implications.”
    • “The technology we invented is being used by eye surgeons, so there are tangible benefits. We’re also learning things on the computer level. We’ve made huge advances in understanding deployables — how we take this giant sun shield the size of a tennis court and fold it up.”
Blake Bullock Civil Air and Space Director for Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems
Blake Bullock, Northrop Grumman
I totally pictured Blake Bullock as this scruffy old nerd… but turns out it is this pretty lady.
  • The Webb is the successor to Hubble, and it’s 100 times more powerful.
    • “It has the potential to fundamentally rewrite our textbooks because of how dramatically it will increase our view of the cosmos” … that is the most exciting part of this entire project for me. It is one of the most vague claims made by the Webb project team, but they sure-as-shit can back it up.
    • To give you a bigger picture of how Webb is going to rock the world’s astronomical minds: Let me take a step back and explain just how monumental Hubble has been.
      • From NASA: When the Hubble mission launched in April 1990, it was meant to spend at least 15 years probing the farthest and faintest reaches of the cosmos. Hubble has far exceeded this goal, operating and observing the universe for over 30 years. During its time in orbit, the telescope has taken more than 1.5 million observations, and astronomers have used that data to publish more than 18,000 peer-reviewed scientific publications on a broad range of topics. 
      • With any piece of machinery that’s 30 years old comes some aging parts. No more servicing missions are scheduled to repair or replace equipment on Hubble. However, a dedicated team of engineers and scientists are continuously working to keep Hubble operating for as long as possible.
      • While nearly impossible to provide a comprehensive list of all the scientific contributions Hubble has made so far during its career, the telescope’s observations have contributed to the understanding of the development and growth of galaxies, the presence of black holes in most galaxies, the birth of stars, and the atmospheric composition of planets outside our solar system. Hubble’s explorations have fundamentally changed our perception of the universe and will continue to reveal new insights for many more years.
    • Now let me say again: The Webb is the successor to Hubble, and it’s 100 times more powerful.
Image of Hubble over Earth
  • I am ecstatic for this telescope to reach it’s orbit destination.
    • Webb will orbit around the second Lagrange (L2) point, which is about 1 million miles (1.5 million km) away from Earth, and it takes about a month to travel this distance.
    • After reaching its orbit, Webb undergoes science and calibration testing. Then, regular science operations and images will begin to arrive, approximately six months after launch.
    • So if this bad boy does finally launch in late December of 2021, we still won’t get any results until as early as late June 2022.
    • But that 6 month waiting period is nothing compared to the 25 years of development.
      • Like I said. I am ecstatic!!! When these huge discoveries about the cosmos are made I am transported from my day-to-day life and my mind soars among the stars.
      • When we as humans make these discoveries, I feel less like a passenger on Earth, and more like a crewman alongside 7 billion of my fellow crewmates.
      • It truly is a unifying feeling that makes me proud to be human.