NASA has just released the first pictures
from the new James Webb Space Telescope.
containing starlight more ancient than any ever seen before,
herald a new age of discovery.
It's the largest space telescope we've ever built.
We're going to make discoveries which we never anticipated.
It's one of NASA's most challenging missions
since the moon landings.
Webb is on par with Apollo.
Just the size of it, the complexity, the reach.
The telescope will probe the furthest reaches of our universe.
But it's like Hubble on steroids.
Hubble opened up the deep universe for us.
Well, the James Webb Telescope is going to go even deeper.
It will look back in time to the birth of light.
There will be moments where we could actually look back
to the first stars.
Let me say that again, the first stars turning on,
that's what we're going to try to see.
It will explore beyond our solar system,
to reveal the secrets of distant planets.
This is mind-boggling.
We can actually look at these planets
and maybe actually find life out there.
We're going to see the universe
in a whole new way that we've never seen it before.
It has taken over 30 years,
and the work of over 10,000 people
to create the most advanced telescope ever built.
If Hubble rewrote the textbooks once,
James Webb will rewrite them again.
So, be ready for a brand-new universe.
Los Angeles, 26th of September, 2021.
In a secret operation, a specially designed container
carrying the James Webb Space Telescope
begins the long journey to the launch site in South America.
Security is tight.
The telescope is the most expensive
scientific instrument ever built.
Waiting anxiously at a nearby harbour
is the man overseeing the entire Webb Space Telescope programme,
It's been about 20 years and about $10 billion.
But the global impact that this mission is going to have...
It's hard to put dollars on it.
It's quite nerve-racking.
Astronomers hope this telescope
will change the way we view the universe.
NASA built it to fulfil a dream
that began in the last century.
Over Christmas in 1995,
the astronomers in charge of the Hubble Space Telescope
took an extraordinary photo.
What they did is they actually looked at a piece of empty space,
and it was deliberately chosen to be a piece of empty space,
because what they wanted to do was get a really long exposure
and see what was out there.
It looked for ten whole days.
And when the images started to come back,
that tiny piece of space
turned out to have lots of stars and galaxies.
It was amazing.
This was an image that just blew away all of us astronomers.
This was the deepest image ever, up to that time, of our universe.
The image is known as the Hubble Deep Field.
It shows about 3,000 galaxies.
Astronomers realised they were seeing the distant galaxies
as they existed a very long time ago.
When we look out to space, we're also looking at time.
And that's because light takes a finite time to travel through space.
Light travels at 300,000 kilometres per second,
which is pretty incredibly fast.
It's the fastest thing we know of,
yet even that is finite.
And so it takes time for
the light from the object we're looking at
to get to us.
Light from the most distant objects Hubble can see
takes around 13 billion years to reach us.
This means we are seeing them as they were
a few hundred million years after the Big Bang.
But that's where our observations with Hubble stop.
Just a little further back in time,
the first stars and galaxies were born.
It's frustrating. These objects are just out of the range
of the Hubble Space Telescope.
So even though we may be only going back,
say, half a billion years more,
that's when that first generation of stars turned on.
Astronomers desperately want to know
what happened in the early years of the universe.
How were the first stars and galaxies created?
We're talking about the beginning of history
and there's a natural curiosity to understand,
how did it all get started?
We can make all the models in the world
and we can write lots of papers
and we can say, well, if it's like this or if it's like that,
but at the end of the day, you just got to go look.
In the 1980s, before Hubble had even launched,
a small group of scientists among the staff
of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland,
began working on ideas for its successor.
Peter Stockman was on the team.
Our director said, you know, "You need to start thinking
"about what the next telescope is going to be like,
"even before this one launches."
So we invited a bunch of astronomers and engineers
and people from all over NASA
to give talks about what they would imagine the telescope to be.
Ideas included a telescope on the moon
and several in space.
But it was the Hubble image of distant galaxies
that would truly shape the telescope's design.
When the Hubble Deep Field came out,
people realised, my gosh,
if we can do this with Hubble
and we had a telescope with even more resolution,