NASA Comparison: Webb vs. Hubble Telescope

Webb often gets called the replacement for Hubble, but we prefer to call it a successor. After all, Webb is the scientific successor to Hubble; its science goals were motivated by results from Hubble. Hubble’s science pushed us to look to longer wavelengths to “go beyond” what Hubble has already done. In particular, more distant objects are more highly redshifted, and their light is pushed from the UV and optical into the near-infrared. Thus observations of these distant objects (like the first galaxies formed in the Universe, for example) requires an infrared telescope.

 

This is the other reason that Webb is not a replacement for Hubble; its capabilities are not identical. Webb will primarily look at the Universe in the infrared, while Hubble studies it primarily at optical and ultraviolet wavelengths (though it has some infrared capability). Webb also has a much bigger mirror than Hubble. This larger light collecting area means that Webb can peer farther back into time than Hubble is capable of doing. Hubble is in a very close orbit around the earth, while Webb will be 1.5 million kilometers (km) away at the second Lagrange (L2) point.

 

Webb will observe primarily in the infrared and will have four science instruments to capture images and spectra of astronomical objects. These instruments will provide wavelength coverage from 0.6 to 28 micrometers (or “microns”; 1 micron is 1.0 x 10-6 meters). The infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum goes from about 0.75 microns to a few hundred microns. This means that Webb’s instruments will work primarily in the infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum, with some capability in the visible range (in particular in the red and up to the yellow part of the visible spectrum).

 

The instruments on Hubble can observe a small portion of the infrared spectrum from 0.8 to 2.5 microns, but its primary capabilities are in the ultra-violet and visible parts of the spectrum from 0.1 to 0.8 microns.

 

Why are infrared observations important to astronomy? Stars and planets that are just forming lie hidden behind cocoons of dust that absorb visible light. (The same is true for the very center of our galaxy.) However, infrared light emitted by these regions can penetrate this dusty shroud and reveal what is inside.

 

At left are infrared and visible light images from the Hubble Space Telescope of the Monkey Head Nebula, a star-forming region. A jet of material from a newly forming star is visible in one of the pillars, just above and left of centre in the right-hand image. Several galaxies are seen in the infrared view, much more distant than the columns of dust and gas.

Read the full article at: www.jwst.nasa.gov