Front Page Talking Points


Launch of giant Webb Telescope will let astronomers study planets beyond our solar system


1.gifList at least two school subjects used daily by NASA engineers.

2.gifRelay something you learn from different science or technology coverage.

3.gifPick another gee-whiz article from far away (not space) and share an interesting fact.

The most powerful telescope ever built is about to change how we see the universe. The James Webb Space Telescope, NASA's premier observatory of the next decade, is scheduled to be launched Dec. 18 after years of delays. The sophisticated space observatory, orbiting the sun 1 million miles from Earth, will answer questions about our solar system and distant galaxies beyond. It will study and planets in new ways and see deeper into the universe than its predecessors. It could find clues about possible life out there.

The complex spacecraft, which cost an astonishing $9.7 billion, was developed through a partnership between NASA and the European and Canadian space agencies. It has a mirror that can extend over 21 feet to collect more light from objects it observes – a capability that will show more details. The Webb Telescope will be launched from French Guiana on South America's northeast coast and is named for NASA's second administrator, who led the Apollo lunar exploration program and died in 1992. It'll extend discoveries made by the Hubble Space Telescope, which went aloft in 1990 and still is in low Earth orbit. One goal is to create an image of the area directly surrounding a super-massive black hole at the heart of our Milky Way galaxy. Thousands of scientists around the world are waiting to see what Webb will show, starting next year. "It's going to be a game changer. It's going to allow measuring exoplanet atmospheres for a large number of planets and at exquisite detail," says Loic Albert, a University of Montreal research and a scientific instrument expert for the telescope.

What the first galaxies looked like and when they formed is not known, and the Webb telescope is designed to help scientists learn more about that early period of the universe billions of years ago. The first planet outside our solar system, known as an "exoplanet," was discovered in 1992. Since then, scientists have found thousands more exoplanets and estimate that there are hundreds of billions in the Milky Way galaxy alone. There is a lot to learn, such as what makes up their atmospheres and what their weather and seasons may be like. The Webb telescope will help scientists do that, and also study Saturn, Uranus and Neptune in our solar system.

NASA says: "The amazing science that will be shared with the global community will be audacious and profound." -- Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator

Launch rocket: The 14,000-pound telescope will be atop an Ariane 5 rocket, a massive machine that will take 29 days to lift it to its distant orbit

Astronomer says: "It's possible that life started somewhere other than Earth." – Jill Tarter, retired expert

Front Page Talking Points is written by Alan Stamm for, Copyright 2022

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Common Core State Standard
SL.CCS.1/2/3/4 Grades 6-12: An essay of a current news event is provided for discussion to encourage participation, but also inspire the use of evidence to support logical claims using the main ideas of the article. Students must analyze background information provided about a current event within the news, draw out the main ideas and key details, and review different opinions on the issue. Then, students should present their own claims using facts and analysis for support.