By now you’ve heard of the James Webb telescope and if you haven’t, you’re probably afraid to ask. So we’ll run you through a quick primer on what the James Webb telescope is and why it’s such a big deal (just in case). Once you understand all of that, you’ll know why WASP-96b is important to the James Webb and why some knowledge of it may be important to you.
The James Webb Space Telescope
The James Webb Space Telescope, as it is officially known, is an infrared space telescope. An infrared telescope is what it sounds like. It detects infrared wavelengths on the infrared (lower than visible) portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. Which not only allows the James Webb Telescope to see very far, but it can see things our eyes cannot. This is important to its mission because the goal is to take a look at the beginning of time itself. That’s not really an exaggeration.
Why is the James Webb Space Telescope a Big Deal
The James Webb Space Telescope is a big deal because it gives us both the ability to see the farthest away from our planet and the farthest back in time of any device to date. It’s a bit of a window through time. Light moves at the speed of….well light, but that speed is finite. It’s roughly 186,000 miles per second. So, it’s been moving that fast since the beginning of time. For example the dinosaurs were around 60 million years ago, and the Virgo Cluster is around 60 million light years away. If you were standing on a planet in the Virgo Cluster looking at earth with a really big telescope, you’d see dinosaurs. The light on the earth, including the image of the dinosaurs, would be just reaching the Virgo Cluster now. So, with the James Webb we’re able to see light that existed all the way up to 13.7 billion years ago. The universe is estimated to be 13.8 billion years old (that may change based on the Webb results). Therefore, the James Webb telescope should be able to show us what the universe looked like all the way down to 100 million years before the big bang. That’s a big deal.
The History and Deployment of the James Webb Space Telescope
Discussions of a follow-up to the Hubble Space telescope (the Webb can detect objects up to 100 times more faint than the Hubble) began in the 1980s. However, the serious planning didn’t start until the late 80’s and early 90’s. The project took shape over the years and in 2002, NASA renamed the project after their second administrator James E Webb who was instrumental in the Apollo mission. The project was infamously delayed, billions of dollars over budget and a few years later than expected. Yet, at a final cost of 10 billion dollars…we can see pretty close to when this whole universal rat race started. The James Webb finally launched on December 25,2021, and it’s now sitting almost a million miles away from earth taking pictures.
WASP-96b is an Exoplanet
WASP-96b is an exoplanet 1150 light years from earth. An exoplanet is a planet which orbits a star outside of our own solar system. WASP-96b is composed mainly of gas. This gas giant, which is around half the size of Jupiter, was confirmed to have water recently by the James Webb Telescope. Why were they looking at WASP-96b…because they thought it didn’t have water aka clouds. The absence of water and clouds would have given the James Webb an extremely clear view of the distant planet. However, the fact it was able to detect water is a miracle of modern science. As you can see from the wavelength of light analysis below, the Webb was able to detect water more than a thousand light years away. Quite an opening act for an over-budget, long-delayed space project.
There is nothing particularly Fortean or anomalous about the James Webb telescope. Yet, it drives us toward the same set of questions and answers. The answers to the basic questions of who we are, where we came from and where we’re going. This is the unknown. The James Webb is an instrument of science. We are a website devoted to the science of the unknown, and thus consider this a matter of import to all of our readers. Perhaps the James Webb Space Telescope is the finest Fortean instrument ever conceived….yet.