The James Webb Space Telescope is a miracle of modern science and engineering. With a 21-foot, gold-coated mirror protected by a sunshield that’s the size of a tennis court, it’s the world’s most powerful telescope and humanity’s latest attempt to answer questions like: “Where did we come from?” and “Are we alone?”
(It also needed to be folded up like origami in order to launch into space.) Nobel Laureate John C. Mather, the leader of the team at NASA that built the Webb, explains how the telescope will observe the first galaxies to form in the early universe, peer behind clouds of cosmic dust and gas to reveal stars being born and uncover new details about places like Europa and Titan, which could harbor life. “We’re going to get a great surprise from this telescope,” Mather says.