Questions for ‘The long-awaited James Webb Space Telescope has a big to-do list’

an illustration of the unfulred James Webb Space Telescope

This is an artist’s representation of what the unfurled James Webb Space Telescope would look like in space. It’s the biggest, most complex telescope ever launched into space.


To accompany “The long-awaited James Webb Space Telescope has a big to-do list


Before Reading:

  1.  Have you ever used a telescope before? If so, what type of objects did you use it to see? If not, have you ever seen images taken by telescopes before? What types of objects were you able to see in those images?

During Reading:

  1. When was the James Webb Space Telescope originally supposed to launch? When did it actually launch?
  2. What two major discoveries have astronomers made about the universe since the James Webb Space Telescope was first imagined?
  3. What is unique about the design of the James Webb Space Telescope? What benefits does that unique design offer?
  4. How is the James Webb Space Telescope different from the Hubble Space Telescope that came before it?
  5. How is the James Webb Space Telescope able to see back in time to view galaxies that existed shortly after the universe was born?
  6. What problem faced astronomers in their estimate for the age of the universe in the 1990s? How was that “age conflict” resolved?
  7. What is the Hubble constant? What problem currently faces astronomers in their measurement of the Hubble constant?
  8. What are “standard candles”? How are they used to measure distances to very far-off objects? What are some examples of standard candles?
  9. How could the Webb telescope help resolve astronomers’ problem measuring the Hubble constant?
  10. How do telescopes spot planets orbiting other stars? How could a telescope like James Webb detect gases in the atmospheres of those planets?
  11. Why will the Webb telescope be better at observing exoplanet atmospheres than the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes?
  12. Why does the Webb telescope, unlike Hubble, have a strictly limited lifetime?

After Reading:

  1.  Nikole Lewis argues that the delays in Webb’s development were actually a good thing, because by the time the telescope launched, there were more known exoplanets for it to observe. Do you agree that the delays in Webb’s launch were a good thing? Why or why not? What are the potential downsides to the telescope’s launch being so delayed? How might astronomy be different now if Webb had launched a decade ago, as planned?