Hubble Telescope's observations detailed by Brian Cox

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Researchers are now attempting to deploy the James Webb Space Telescope’s instruments, the space observatory having launched on Saturday. In order for it to work, the barrier must successfully unpack its five-layered Sun shield. Without it, Webb cannot achieve the super-cold temperatures needed by its mirror and instruments to work properly — a “make or break” moment.

Once open, Webb will be able to observe the planets beyond the orbit of Mars, satellites, comets, asteroids, and Kuiper Belt Objects.

Most importantly, it will be able to see in great detail galaxies, stars and their planets deep within our own universe, with a view to better understand the origins of existence and how time came to be.

Webb’s predecessor, which served science and our desire to understand more about the cosmos, is the Hubble Space Telescope, launched into orbit in 1990, it has for over 30 years taken photographs of aspects of our universe millions and billions of light-years away.

Its achievements were explored during the BBC’s cutting-edge series with Professor Brian Cox, ‘Universe: Where everything begins and ends’.

Light travels very slowly on the universal scale, only 186,000 miles a second.

It takes light eight minutes to journey from the sun to the Earth; it takes four years for light to journey from the next-nearest star, meaning we see that star as it was four years in the past.

So, the further out into the universe we go, the further back in time we look.

And, because we can look way out into the instant universe through the Hubble Telescope, we are able to look back towards the beginning of time.

Prof Cox noted: “In the quest to find the origin of the universe, we need a time machine – a telescope so powerful that can peer out so far into the universe that it can capture the most ancient light and carry us back towards the dawn of time.”

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He noted that NASA has successfully achieved this time-travelling mission, and said: “The Hubble Space Telescope has taken us on an odyssey through the universe, revealing its gods, and monsters.

“Our universe is a place of beauty and terror, Hubble has shown us visions of sublime creation and images of awesome destruction, illuminating our journey backwards in time towards the dawn.”

Between 2004 and 2005, the Hubble captured its sharpest views yet of the Orion Nebula, a stellar nursery containing clouds of gas nurturing newborn stars in the Milky Way.

Its image was brought to us by light that left the nebula 1,300 years ago.

The same can be said of the Pillars of Creation, within the Eagle Nebula, towering, delicate structures that are light-years tall, whose light has taken 7,000 years to reach us, also captured by Hubble.


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The Andromeda Galaxy, a glittering island of a trillion suns, has been brought to us by light from 2.5 million years ago.

And a Cosmic rose — comprised of two interacting galaxies distorted by their mutual gravitational pull — was captured in August of this year, whose light took 300 million years to reach us.

Hubble’s voyage has taken us even further out into the uncharted ocean of space, glimpsing countless ancient and faraway galaxies, some of whose images have taken billions of years to reach the Earth, “lighting the way to the primordial past”.

Finally, Hubble approached the farthest shore, the outermost limit it was able to achieve.

A galaxy near the dawn of time, one that came cosmological moments after the Big Bang — 400 million years — known as GN—z11, has taken 13.4 billion years to reach Earth.

The Hubble, then, has travelled through time, one of NASA’s biggest success stories.

Now, the James Webb Telescope will be able to plunge to even greater depths than the Hubble.

It will cover longer wavelengths of light than Hubble and will have greatly improved sensitivity, which will enable it to look further back in time to see the first galaxies that formed in the early universe, ones like GN—z11, but in better detail.

Webb will also be able to peer inside dust clouds where stars and planetary systems are forming today.

Currently, NASA has yet to observe the era of our universe’s history when galaxies began to form — and so there is much to learn about how galaxies got supermassive black holes in their centres.

We also do not know whether the black holes caused the galaxies to form, or vice versa.

And while we cannot see inside dust clouds with high resolution, where stars and planets are being born today, Webb will be able to do just that.

Many scientists have heralded the launch of Webb as the next step in our understanding of space; something that will enable us to better understand ourselves and the world around us.

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