JWST will look at objects in the observable universe using infrared light—the “heat” of the universe. The farthest and coolest objects we can detect are seen via infrared light. Using this data, JWST will serve thousands of astronomers all over the world as they paint a picture of the earliest days of the universe. The telescope will also be used to find and analyze the atmospheres of planets in other solar systems and may provide the first direct images of Jupiter-sized extrasolar planets.
After launch, the 14,330-pound (6,500 kilogram) telescope will journey to a distant orbit around the sun and unfurl its tennis court-sized sunshield and segmented mirror to begin its mission. JWST’s instruments are extremely sensitive to light and heat, so they must be cryogenically cooled to operate effectively. The orbit chosen for the mission is the second Lagrangian point (L2), which uses the Earth itself as a shield from the sun, allowing JWST an unobstructed view of the universe.
JWST will carry several remarkable new scientific instruments, including the Near-Infrared Camera, Near-Infrared Spectrograph, Mid-Infrared Instrument and the Fine Guidance Sensor. These tools have been developed by universities and space agencies all over the world, making the JWST truly an international project.