Braving the rain, scientists and engineers have rolled out a full scale model of the NASA James Webb Space Telescope at South by Southwest. The public will get an up-close look at the telescope, which will look deep into the cosmos for starlight from the most distant galaxies to learn about the origins of the universe.
"We call ourselves a time machine," said Scott Willoughby, James Webb program manager at Northrop Grumman, where the telescope is being built. "We can look and actually find, further than Hubble did, the first light that came out after the big bang."
The telescope will also be able to scan alien planet atmospheres for signs of the ingredients of life, he added.
About the size of a tennis court, the behemoth telescope sitting on the lawn of the Long Center for the Performing Arts in Austin, Texas, is a massive device. Seven Hubble Space Telescope mirrors could fit into one of the James Webb’s. The bigger the mirror, the fainter the light that can be collected – and James Webb, set to launch in 2018, will be looking for some very faint light from the Universe’s birth.
With about 30,000 onlookers expected to filter through the festival, James Webb exhibit officials hope to attract a generous slice of passersby with the massive telescope and the interactive events inside the tent. The display is part of an effort to get people interested in the telescope – but also to encourage young people to consider careers in science and engineering.