NASA’s Next Great Space Telescope Visits Austin

You won’t need a telescope to spot NASA’s latest and greatest project—the infrared James Webb Space Telescope is a 40′ x 80′ instrument the size of a tennis court. And a full-scale model is visiting Austin this week.

The telescope has been in the works for decades and is scheduled to launch in 2018. The four-story device will serve as a 100x-more-powerful successor to NASA’s Hubble Telescope. Astronomers hope that it will help provide answers to some of mankind’s biggest questions, like how the universe formed and if there is life on other planets.

The telescope combines Hubble’s sharp vision with the Spitzer Space Telescope’s infrared technology, giving it the ability to take the most complete pictures of the universe yet. Infrared technology allows astronomers to look beyond dust clouds that previously obscured star and planet formation from human view. The new telescope will have an unprecedented vantage—it will be in orbit one million miles from Earth, more than 2,500 times farther out than Hubble.

“An instrument like JWST benefits the entire astronomical community,” says Sarah Tuttle, a UT astronomer. “It essentially allows us to look further back in time than ever before. It’ll give us a very new insight into the universe and how it was formed.”

A tent adjacent to the model will host a series of events throughout the weekend, including lectures from UT and NASA astronomers, a talk from Nobel Prize-winning astronomer John Mather, and nightly “star parties” held by local astronomy clubs. The “JWST at SXSW” festivities will come to a close on Sunday evening with an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the largest outdoor astronomy lesson ever taught.

The model of the James Webb Space Telescope will be open to the public from Friday, March 8, to Sunday, March 10 outside the Long Center for the Performing Arts. For a full list of events, click here.

Photo courtesy of NASA Webb Telescope via Flickr Creative Commons.


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