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Mission Overview

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST or Webb, for short) will allow astronomers to peer deep into the past using its powerful infrared eyes.

One of the onboard infrared instruments, the Near Infrared Camera instrument dubbed NIRCam, was developed by a team of researchers from the University of Arizona and Lockheed Martin to see light at wavelengths longer than red. The telescope's 21-foot mirror is covered in a thin layer of gold, because gold efficiently reflects infrared.

Detecting infrared light is important. As the universe expands, wavelengths of light get stretched longer and longer, and light traveling from galaxies far away are most affected. With Webb, astronomers want to look 13.5 billion years into the past to observe the formation of the universe's first stars and galaxies. They also plan to study how galaxies evolve, observe the birth of stars and analyze the atmospheres of planets orbiting other stars. NIRCam is designed to peek through clouds of hydrogen and dust that would normally obscure celestial objects.

NIRCam's focal plane – which is similar to a digital camera's imaging sensor – was developed by a team led by Marcia Rieke, a Regents' professor of astronomy in Steward Observatory. Her husband George Rieke, also a Regents' professor of astronomy, is a scientist on the Mid-Infrared Instrument, or MIRI, team.

The Riekes also played important roles in developing instruments on the Hubble Space Telescope. Webb will complement and extend the discoveries of Hubble.

The telescope launches on Dec. 18 on an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana. The telescope will take six weeks to travel to its parking destination between Earth and the moon where it will unfold to begin observing the night sky. Around the new year, its cameras will begin to gather data.

See Marcia Rieke's contribution to The Conversation on the James Webb Space Telescope and it's mission.


Coming soon

Media Contacts & Information

Daniel Stolte

Science Writer, University Communications

Mikayla Mace Kelley

Science Writer, University Communications

News About the Mission