7 big questions the James Webb Space Telescope is about to answer

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NASA will release the first full-colour images from the James Webb Space Telescope next week. Here’s what it will be looking at first – and how it could address the biggest mysteries of the universe


6 July 2022

The James Webb Space Telescope’s mid‑infrared image of nearby galaxy the Large Magellanic Cloud



ON 12 JULY, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will release its first scientific images, raising the curtain on a new era in astronomy. After years of delays, a suspenseful launch and months of testing, the most powerful telescope ever made is finally ready to gather fresh clues relating to questions we could only dream of answering with its predecessors.

The JWST will allow us to peer further into the universe’s distant past than ever before thanks to its special combination of capabilities. As an infrared observatory with a massive mirror floating beyond the orbit of the moon, it can collect light from the faintest, most distant stars and galaxies – light that has been stretched into infrared wavelengths after travelling through expanding space for billions of years. It will see these objects in exquisite detail due to its unrivalled angular resolution. Its infrared spectrograph should also allow us to characterise molecules lurking in the atmospheres of potentially habitable exoplanets.

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The data we receive from the JWST will help us to unravel some of the largest mysteries of the cosmos, from how the first stars and galaxies formed and how fast the universe is expanding to the prospects for extraterrestrial life.

Here we examine seven of the biggest questions the JWST is expected to shed new light on, focusing on specific projects that have been granted time in its first observation cycle, to reveal precisely how this $10 billion telescope will transform our understanding of …

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