The James Webb Space Telescope is set to launch later this week. When it does, it will be the most powerful space telescope ever. Armed with the telescope, scientists intend to peer back in time to the formation of the earliest galaxies in the universe, to study how our solar system evolved and to analyze the atmospheres of distant planets, searching for gases that might signal habitability.
"It's gonna be amazing and it's still a little mind-blowing to think about it," Jane Rigby, NASA project scientist for operations of the telescope, told NPR. The light from these distant galaxies has been traveling to Earth for over 13 billion years, she said. In order to make these observations, the scientific instruments on the telescope need to be kept incredibly cold. That means a crucial part of the telescope is the massive sunshield that will protect it from the heat of the sun.