NASA’s latest space telescope is so sensitive that it could identify the heat released by a bee on the Moon. You might be thinking that insects are cold-blooded. But a few insects are capable of regulating their temperature. Particularly, bumble-bees, who can separate their wing muscles and ‘shiver’ till they’re warm enough to fly.
Even so, the mere difference among the heat signature of a bumble bee and the moon would be nearly undetectable to human senses. But the powerful James Webb telescope’s extremely high sensitive instruments could easily detect the thermal radiation of a bumble bee that was as far away as the Moon.
But the 6,200kg telescope, the biggest ever to be launched into space, isn’t being sent to look for lost bees.
It’s extremely fine instruments will be capable of seeing further into space than ever before, efficiently looking back in time – through clouds of cosmic dust that have blinded all the telescopes we have launched before – to see the cosmos as it was about 13 billion years ago. It will be capable of making minute studies of the atmospheres of exoplanets.
And possibly answering the most captivating question in astronomy: ‘Are we alone in the Universe?’
The mission is mainly run by National Aeronautics and Space Administration, but with crucial assistances from Britain and other associates of the European Space Agency (ESA), whose Ariane 5 rocket will take the telescope into orbit from its French Guiana launch site. ESA’s project manager for the James Webb Space Telescope, Peter Jensen, told The Sunday Times:
“We will be looking for planets and solar systems like our own, hunying for signs of molecules such as water, CO2 and oxygen. The basic question is if they have life on them.”
John Mather, senior astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre, spoke about the October 2018 launch of the Webb telescope to American University radio network WAMU:
“We can see the first objects that were made after the Big Bang, the first stars and galaxies.”
“That’s what we’re expecting to look for. We can even see if a planet could have water on the surface so that’s how we’ll tell if there’s a planet that could have life because it would have water. [The telescope has] such astonishing sensitivity, we can see the heat that’s released by a bumble bee at the distance of the Moon.”
It’s the largest telescope ever put into orbit, and it’ll be responding to some of the major questions that astrophysicists can ask.