To The Great Beyond

University of Texas astronomer selected to man world's most powerful telescope

UT Austin professor selected to man world's most powerful telescope

Webb Space Telescope
A full-sized model of the Webb telescope was displayed in Austin during SXSW 2013. Photo courtesy of JWST

In 2019, the world's most powerful telescope will be launched into space, and with it will come stunning revelations about our universe. 

Amazingly, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, a telescope 10 times more powerful than the Hubble, will be able to see galaxies as they existed 13.4 billion years ago, or when the entire universe was less than 3 percent of its current age. For the first time ever, human beings will see the universe as it was shortly after the Big Bang, going back further in time than ever before.

Among the scientists leading one of the telescope's early projects is University of Texas at Austin associate professor Steven Finkelstein. Finkelstein, who teaches astronomy at the university, was selected to continue his work leading the Cosmic Evolution Early Release Science (CEERS) Survey. 

"This telescope will reveal enormous truths the moment we turn it on,” said Finkelstein in a release. "We will discover the most distant galaxies ever seen — galaxies that were literally invisible to Hubble.”

The CEERS team includes more than 100 scientists from around the world, and will continue the work they began while using the Hubble. Finkelstein and his team will be tasked with making sure the $8 billion dollar telescope is in good working order.

Both the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency made contributions to the telescope, and Finkelstein notes that the team's findings will be immediately available to scientists worldwide. “We’ll be working hard to rapidly produce usable data products for the astronomy community,” he said.

News of the launch, a project that has taken more than two decades to complete, comes in the wake of massive funding cuts to NASA. The Webb, which measures the length of a tennis court and is about three stories high, will be the largest telescope ever sent into space. If it makes its expected 2019 launch date, its journey will take it around the sun where it is expected to observe the origins of planets, stars, and distant galaxies.