Space Telescope Revolution
When the first attempts to understand the stars were made by Galileo little was available to him. Yet, the solar system and its nature were found to be quite different than that of the religious notions of the earth being at the center of the universe. Later, the heliocentric theory was adopted. Today, we have even better instruments to peer through the skies into the farthest of the galaxies and find the unknown.
Today, we have gone beyond atoms and think in terms of quantum technology. Very soon, quantum technology is going to make computers faster, people invisible, communicate faster and look into the galaxies millions of light-years away.
The First Look: Hubble Space Telescope
Galileo invented the modern telescope some 400 years ago and Aryabhatta used one made of bamboo somewhere around 476CE having laid the foundation of astronomy and astrology. He was a fifth-century mathematician, astronomer, and more who used a 2.3-meter telescope to gaze at the planets and was the first to establish the heliocentric theory where the Earth and planets revolve around the nearest star, the sun.
In April of 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was put into orbit (LEO) the USA, and to date, it serves as a source of an astounding amount of data. It has a 2.4-meter mirror and its four main instruments observe UV, Visible, IR, and regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. It is maintained regularly with five space missions to date for upgrades. Now, quantum technology is paving the way to uncovering even more mysteries of galaxies, and particles that share the soul. To enable this, the successor JWST is supposed to be launched in 2021.
With quantum technology, scientists and physicists are trying to establish the mysteries of the universe, its particles, and beyond. Tomorrow’s telescopes will be made of nothing but quantum particles.
Quantum Telescopes: Telescopes of Tomorrow
It is astonishing how quantum technology has impacted the universe we live in and are trying to explore. Astronomers are currently theoretically building the next-gen telescopes. Basically, a couple of quantum particles can be entangled to produce huge resolution telescopes, as a paper published by researchers at Harvard. It means, we can build really really big ones. Currently, the largest one called Extremely Large Telescope has a 40-meter mirror across it. Compared with Hubble, that is magnanimous.
The next James Webb is also tiny in front of it. But, it has an edge. It is the edge of being far away from earth. At the L2 point behind the Earth. But, how does a quantum telescope work?
The idea of building a quantum telescope is based on quantum physics and the theory of quantum technology itself. The idea of entanglement is at the core of this. It is aimed at beating the diffraction limit of space telescopes by exploiting the properties of quantum particles including entanglement and also photon cloning. The ‘Photon Cloning’ that allows one to take an arbitrary unknown quantum state and make an exact copy of it. And, these together can make giant mirrors, the main disadvantage of Hubble Space Telescope and for most earth-based ones too, obsolete. And, it could be the best route to high-resolution space images, according to new research carried out recently in the UK.
The JWST of 2021 is Coming Soon
James Webb in the name is a person who lived from 1906 to 1992 and was the 2nd admin of NASA. And, he was the architect of the Apollo program as well apart from overseeing the spaceflight program Mercury and Gemini. The reason James Webb will be launched for filling up space where some things Hubble couldn’t do. We wanted to see some of the very first galaxies, and Hubble couldn’t do it. That is where James Webb came in and we want to send this to space to have an edge. That is, it is located in space and has no obstruction. The limitations of the Hubble in the infrared spectrum, the small mirror particularly, and its sensitivity towards studying dimmer stars were addressed with the James Webb. It was going to solve the problems we encountered with the Hubble, with the obvious exception of being 1 million miles away from earth peering at the empty space. This was not the case with Hubble, which is still in LEO quite close to the earth which makes viewing certain parts of the sky quite difficult.
Yes, the growth in applications of quantum technology can help build telescopes one day that can far extend the possibilities, but for now, JWST is the successor to our endeavors.
The Technology Behind James Webb Telescope
There is no quantum technology involved in its construction or implementation. There was nothing of this kind for the Hubble Space Telescope as well. However, since its development, the scope of the study has also expanded beyond the stars to studying exoplanets as well. Back in 1990, we knew of only two while today we know there are thousands of them and we would like to study them. In order to make this happen JWST not just used but invented some of the incredible technologies known today.
The instruments can be briefly categorized as Optical Telescope Element or OTE, Spacecraft Element, and the Integrated Science Instrument Module or ISIM. This involves the beryllium mirrors, the cryogenic testing lab, the sun shield with an SPF of 1 Million, the spectrograph for the infrared waves to name a few. It uses a thin plate of 1000 atoms of gold for the sensitivity and many things that were unheard of when building the Hubble Space Telescope back in the days.
The so-called ‘Deep Field’, ‘Super Deep Field’ and some of the earliest galaxies were found only with Hubble, but to study them its instruments were not enough. Thus, in the mid-90s, it was concluded that to do that we have to build a telescope that was optimized for infrared. This meant more sensitive instruments that could detect the wavelengths from the redshifted starlight from the very first galaxies. And, so far there is no quantum technology involved. And, that has enormous potential on top of it.