Is there a “Planet B?”

Today, international space agencies launched the Webb telescope from French Guiana in hopes of uncovering mysteries of the Universe

NASA engineer Ernie Wright looks on as the first six flight ready James Webb Space Telescope's primary mirror segments being prepped to begin final cryogenic testing at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.
By Marcella McCarthy (EN)
December 25, 2021 | 08:00 AM

Miami — This morning marked a much awaited day in space exploration: international space agencies including NASA, the European Space Agency and Canada’s space agency launched the most powerful telescope ever sent into space. The telescope’s primary goal is to discover if there is life on other planets and if there is a “Planet B” that could one day be habitable by humans.

The James Webb Space Telescope (Webb) launched from French Guiana because of its unique location near the equator. Also, most rockets are launched toward the east to take advantage of the small boost they get from the Earth’s rotation.

“It’s the largest space telescope that we’ve ever built, and it will have to unfold in space,” said Lee Feinberg who is the JWST Optical Telescope Element Manager at NASA and who has been on the project for more than 20 years. The telescope was built by NASA and sent down to French Guiana on a ship through the Panama Canal.


Webb is to replace Hubble, the telescope that was sent to space on the space shuttle Discovery in 1990. For over 30 years, the Hubble has been the primary telescope for scientists hoping to discover the mysteries of the universe.

Webb has a sunshield that is coated in gold and is the size of a tennis court. The sunshield is used to keep the telescope cold while in space. The rocket, provided by the French, will carry the Webb plus four instruments.

“By now there are thousands of exoplanets [planets that orbit a star that is not the sun], but the objective is to study some of their atmospheres and whether or not there are chemical species that indicate the presence of life. You’d look for things like carbon dioxide and water,” said Macarena Garcia Marin, the Instrument and Calibration Scientist for the European Space Agency. Marin is responsible for calibrating the MIRI, one of the instruments on board.

The most famous exoplanet is TRAPPIST-1 which was discovered in 2017 and includes seven planets that orbit a star smaller than the sun. With the exploration of these planets so far, scientists think they could have more water than Earth and they are the “most thoroughly known planetary system apart from our own,” according to NASA.