HOUSTON (KIAH)Texas A & M University professor Nicholas Suntzeff is no stranger to talking about space. Suntzeff has been involved with space research for 30 years.

So when he was asked about the significance of the Christmas Eve launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), there’s a reason why he believes it will provide answers to some of space’s biggest mysteries.

NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency are working together to launch, from French Guiana on Dec. 24, the Telescope named after a former NASA administrator. The JWST will be 100 times more powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope, which was launched in 1990, providing incredible images as it orbits about 340 miles above the Earth. JWST will orbit around the sun about 1 million miles from the Earth.


Suntzeff, a physicist who and spent 20 years in Chile and helped co-discover dark energy, says it will be able to capture the farthest depths of the universe ever achieved and could tell us secrets about the origins of the universe from 13.5 billion years ago. Almost 30 years in development and with a price tag of $9.7 billion, the JWST has a mirror system made of 18 hexagonal mirrors tiled together to form a reflecting surface as large as a tennis court. Astronomers will be able to see light from the time when the universe was only one percent of its present age, a time they call “cosmic dawn.”

Because the telescope will be orbiting around the sun, not the Earth, when orbiting its temperature shields will face ranges of minus-388 degrees on its cold side to 180 degrees on the hot side. These positions are what scientists refer to as the second Lagrange point, or L2, meaning its position in relation to the Earth.

“The JWST will orbit around the second Lagrange point,” Suntzeff said. “We know that L2 is not always stable, so the telescope will orbit around this mathematical point. They also want JWST to orbit such that its heat shields are always illuminated by the sun, moon and Earth. This sounds weird because these are the objects that make it hard to observe. However, with the shield the spacecraft will be protected from light from these objects. And if those three objects are always on the other side of the shield, the temperature on the hot side of the shield will remain pretty constant.”

Suntzeff said one unique aspect of the JWST is that it will use infrared light images, which allow astronomers to look more clearly into space and bypass the many dusty and hazy areas of the universe. And Suntzeff has his own unique Telescope that will make history in the near future too. Along with his work in Texas A&M`s Department of Physics & Astronomy, he’s also involved with the development of the Giant Magellan Telescope, which when completed in 2029. It will be the largest telescope on Earth, located in the Atacama Desert of Chile and involves such groups as the University of Texas, the University of Arizona, the University of Chicago, Australian National University and others.