logo

Space Telescopes

Clouds Form Near Black Holes

Click on one of the button to go to James Webb or Hubble Telescope.

Webb vs Hubble Telescope

Overview

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 Image of JWebb and Hubble Telescope 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.

Overall size comparison of Webb and Hubble.

Credits: Credit: GSFC

Webb will have a 6.5 meter diameter primary mirror, which would give it a significantly larger collecting area than the mirrors available on the current generation of space telescopes. Hubble's mirror is a much smaller 2.4 meters in diameter and its corresponding collecting area is 4.5 m2, giving Webb around 6.25 Image of JWebb Mirrors times more collecting area! Webb will have significantly larger field of view than the NICMOS camera on Hubble (covering more than ~15 times the area) and significantly better spatial resolution than is available with the infrared Spitzer Space Telescope.

The Earth is 150 million km from the Sun and the moon orbits the earth at a distance of approximately 384,500 km. The Hubble Space Telescope orbits around the Earth at an altitude of ~570 km above it. Webb will not actually orbit the Earth - instead it will sit at the Earth-Sun L2 Lagrange point, 1.5 million km away!

Because Hubble is in Earth orbit, it was able to be launched into space by the space shuttle. Webb will be launched on an Ariane 5 rocket and because it won't be in Earth orbit, it is not designed to be serviced by the space shuttle.

At the L2 point Webb's solar shield will block the light from the Sun, Earth, and Moon. This will help Webb stay cool, which is very important for an infrared telescope. As the Earth orbits the Sun, Webb will orbit with it - but stay fixed in the same spot with relation to the Earth and the Sun, as shown in the diagram to the left. Actually, satellites orbit around the L2 point, as you can see in the diagram - they don't stay completely motionless at a fixed spot.