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Hubble versus Webb: Pioneering Space Telescopes Exploring the Cosmos

Gazing into the infinity of space, humanity has longed to grasp our place amidst the grandeur of billions of galaxies. Great observatories like the trailblazing Hubble Space Telescope and the eagerly anticipated James Webb Space Telescope have brought us closer than ever before to visualizing and understanding the origins of the cosmos.

Let‘s examine the ambitious journeys, advanced capabilities, stunning vistas and lasting legacies of Hubble and Webb propelling astronomy into an unprecedented era of space-based discovery.

Concept to Launch: The Roads to Building Hubble and Webb

The vision to launch a large telescope above Earth‘s obscuring atmosphere was first described by astronomer Lyman Spitzer in 1946. Over 30 years elapsed before funding was approved to start constructing the Large Space Telescope in 1977 which was formally christened the Hubble Space Telescope.

Intended to operate for 15 years when finally launched by Space Shuttle Discovery in 1990, Hubble swiftly ran into technical problems with its 8-foot primary mirror which took 3 years to solve with a follow-up 1993 servicing mission. Once corrected and outfitted with advanced cameras and sensors, Hubble commenced over 25 years of astonishing deep field imagery and research still ongoing today.

Even as Hubble‘s development commenced, concept studies began in 1989 for a more expansive next-generation space telescope to view the cosmos in infrared. By 2002, the project was approved with extra funding from European and Canadian space agencies, and aptly named the James Webb Space Telescope honoring a key NASA administrator guiding early space science programs.

Overcoming numerous engineering challenges including building a massive 21-foot beryllium mirror and five-layer sunshield, Webb finally launched on Christmas 2021 after two decade construction by leading aerospace firms Northrop Grumman and Ball Aerospace. Costing over $10 billion, Webb promises to revolutionize infrared astronomy in coming years.

Telescope Proposed Approved Launched Development Time Cost
Hubble 1946 1977 1990 13 years $2.5 billion
Webb 1989 2002 2021 ** **20 years $10 billion

While Hubble completes an orbit every 97 minutes at 17,000 mph just 353 miles high, Webb‘s position is fixed in a halo orbit almost 1 million miles from Earth around LaGrange Point 2 where balanced gravities enable huge cost savings. This sun-synchronous orbit keeps Webb‘s sunshield in permanent shade to maintain the cryogenic temperatures needed for infrared instruments.

Size Matters: Hubble vs. Webb‘s Mirrors and Instruments

Webb boasts the largest mirror ever launched into space at 21 feet wide, 2.75 times bigger than Hubble‘s 8-foot mirror. This enormous light-capturing surface dwarfs all predecessors and is required to glimpse extremely faint objects formed just after the Big Bang over 13 billion years ago.

Made up of 18 gold-coated beryllium hexagons adjustable down to nanometer precision, Webb‘s primary compound eye aligns light towards four main onboard instrument packages to deliver unprecedented infrared imagery and spectra.

Over 30 years, Hubble‘s suite of cameras have also grown sharper through five manned servicing missions and upgrades. Engineers believe Hubble could conduct visible light observations into the 2030s before its gradually decaying orbit necessitates retirement. Already exceeding its life expectancy sixfold, Hubble continues demonstrating cutting-edge solar research today.

Meanwhile as Hubble ages gracefully on, Webb‘s specialized decade-long quest to study hidden galactic nurseries and primeval quasars is just getting started. Its sensitive instruments use advanced optics, sensors, robotics and control theory – much like the exponential tech growth driving advances in computing power, programming, AI and aerospace engineering.

Telescope Mirror Diameter Wavelength Detection Instruments Imaging detectors Data archive size
Hubble 2.4 meters (7.9 ft) Near UV, Visible, Near Infrared 3 Cameras, 3 Spectrographs 6 (CCDs) ~75 terabytes growing 30 TB/year
Webb 6.5 meter (21.3 ft) 18-segments Near Infrared, Mid Infrared . 4 Cameras and Spectrographs .21 mega-pixel NIRCam, 2IRS spectrographs Projected 240+ TB after 5 years

From Galaxies to Nebulae: Comparing Cosmic Views

Launched to fanfare yet quickly stymied by blurry vision needing correction, Hubble swiftly soared to stardom after servicing missions upgraded its optics. Over 1.5 million observations captured imaginations worldwide with picturesque portraits of planets and moons, views into gas cloud nebulae birthing new stars, and deep field glimpses unveiling over 10,000 galaxies in tiny patches of night sky.

Hubble‘s Top 10 Images

  1. Pillars of Creation
  2. Hubble Ultra Deep Field
  3. Cat‘s Eye Nebula
  4. Crab Nebula
  5. Sombrero Galaxy
  6. Hourglass Nebula
  7. Carina Nebula
  8. Eagle Nebula
  9. Whirlpool Galaxy
  10. SN 1987A supernova

Webb‘s early test imagery teases its capabilities to peer through clouds of obscuring space dust towards newborn stars and planetary systems invisible to Hubble. By surveying galaxies born just a few hundred million years after the Big Bang, Webb will study how the first stars fused lighter elements into heavier metals, oxygen and carbon building up over eons.

Webb‘s Greatest Hits So Far

  1. Stephan‘s Quintet
  2. Southern Ring Nebula
  3. SMACS 0723 galaxy cluster
  4. Window to new star birth in NGC 3324
  5. Cartwheel Galaxy‘s fireworks finale
  6. Molecular clouds of Carina Nebula
  7. Phantom Galaxy protocluster
  8. Jupiter‘s auroras and faint rings
  9. Atmosphere analysis on exoplanet WASP-96 b
  10. Spectrographic map of early quasar host galaxy

Hubble dishes up gorgeous visible light postcards from exotic zones of known space. Webb goes further to unveil hidden infrared nurseries where new stars and worlds are being actively assembled across the cosmos.

Which telescope has shown us more stunning scenes across the widest range of cosmic objects and eras? It remains early for Webb as 2023 observations commence, but its lengthy list of assigned targets assure an eventful year of revelations ahead!

The Hubble Space Telescope has captured breathtaking visible light images like the majestic Sombrero Galaxy (right). The infrared-optimized James Webb reveals otherwise obscured newborn stars behind the thick dust clouds of the iconic Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula (left). Credits: NASA, ESA, Hubble; NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI Webb

Looking Towards the Dawn of Time with Infrared Eyes

Propelled by an 8-foot mirror detecting visible and ultraviolet light, the Hubble Space Telescope greatly expanded cosmic horizons by documenting objects as far back as 13.4 billion light years into deep time – over 95% towards the edge of the observable universe!

Powered by Webb‘s much wider 21-foot segmented mirror and infrared instrumentation, NASA predicts it may uncover infant galaxies born a mere 100-250 million years after the Big Bang or over 13.6 billion years in the past. Since Hubble‘s 1990 launch, the maximum estimated age of the universe has expanded over 750 million years due to refined measurements of the rate of expansion.

By tracing infrared light stretched by the expansion of space itself, Webb can study the most redshifted early galaxies otherwise invisible even to Hubble. Peering through obscuring clouds of gas and dust also permits Webb to analyze stellar nurseries and solar systems in the process of formation – dynamic environments completely hidden optically.

Catching the redshifted light from such unimaginably distant epochs lets astronomers quite literally look back towards the first few flashes of stars switching on just after the Big Bang birthed time and space itself!

Telescope Furthest back observed Redshifted peak wavelength
Hubble 500 million years after Big Bang visibly stretched to red optical
Webb (Predicted) 100-250 million years deep infrared

By synergistically combining Hubble‘s sharp visible light imagery with Webb‘s spectral infrared vision, researchers forecast an unprecedented view into over 13 billion years of cosmic evolution from awaited formation to current times.

Discovery Impact: Which Telescope Will Prove More Pivotal?

Launched in 1990 amidst massive media hype yet soon embarrassed by a flipped lens, Hubble swiftly recovered following a 1993 repair mission to commence over 25 years of trailblazing deep field imagery and analysis. With over 1.5 million observations cataloged to date, Hubble remains extraordinarily scientifically productive past 3 times its planned lifetime.

Hubble‘s 165 terabytes and counting of processed archival observations have contributed to over 19,000 refereed publications. Much lauded findings include precisely dating the universe‘s expansion rate, charting growth of new stars and evolution of galaxies over billions of years, and analyzing exoplanet atmospheres through transit photometry.

Inheriting Hubble‘s legacy, Webb promises infrared insights into hidden zones of star birth and planet formation camouflaged behind obscuring nebula. By spectroscopically examining primordial galaxies unseeable otherwise, Webb may enlighten understanding on the emergence of metals, planets and possibly life itself.

A review study in Nature Scientific Reports analyzed Hubble‘s research impact by citations to estimate $4.7 trillion in total economic value delivered from 1990 to 2010 – an impressive ROI demonstrating public investments producing invaluable basic science!

Hubble‘s enduring influence seems set to continue as Webb writes its own infrared-focused chapter. Joint analysis and discoveries from this one-two space telescope punch appear destined to completely transform astrophysics.

Future Great Observatory Concepts Under Study

With trailblazers Hubble and Webb conducting visible and infrared science, what comes next? Space agencies plan more advanced orbiting telescopes like LUVOIR to find exoplanets and study the epoch of cosmic reionization by 2035. NASA is also designing Hubble‘s successor ATLAST with a mammoth 39-foot segmented mirror potentially launching in the 2040s.

Private telescope projects are also heating up. Celestron recently revealed plans for a small ultraviolet telescope named Celestron Earth 1 to help catalog hazardous space debris by 2025.

Startups like Orbital Sidekick and Umbra Space are launching constellations of compact hyperspectral imaging satellites to provide commercial remote sensing and geospatial analytics services from space.

Spurred by the legacy of Hubble and Webb, engineers aim to construct bigger specialized observatories while entrepreneurs build out smaller satellite networks to dynamically monitor Earth and space. The launch market appears brighter than ever!

Conclusion: Hubble and Webb Usher In A Golden Age

We‘ve traversed vast stretches of the observable universe timeline to compare milestone missions and discoveries by the venerable Hubble Space Telescope versus the highly anticipated James Webb Space Telescope.

While Hubble has an unmatched tenure over 30 years conducting visible light science, Webb‘s immense infrared promise is just beginning to unfold. Within a projected 10-year lifetime, Webb may reveal hidden galactic treasures and glimpse creation mysteries from the infant cosmos unseeable by any instrument before.

Rather than rivals, Hubble and Webb play complementary, collaborative roles showcasing breathtaking vistas and propelling cutting-edge astronomy. Though one day in the 2030s their orbits may finally decay, the questions raised and legacies established by these great orbiting observatories seem certain to echo through all future generations gazing up at the heavens above.

Can you believe we‘re finally at the conclusion after traversing over 13 billion years of cosmic history? Which telescope has made the biggest impact in your view so far? Are you excited to see what Webb discovers next? Feel free to post reactions or ask me anything in the comments!