It may look more like a perplexing work of avant-garde sculpture than it does a telescope, but make no mistake about it--the golden snowflake on a surfboard that is the James Webb Space Telescope
will be the premier eye in the sky of the next decade. With the assistance of the Webb, astronomers hope to take a giant leap forward in understanding the origins of the cosmos.
It trumps all previous space telescopes by virtue of its 18 hexagonal reflectors, which combine to form a huge mirror roughly seven times larger than that of the Hubble Space Telescope
. This will allow it to collect far more light to see with, enabling it to peer at the most distant objects in the universe. Since light travels in time as well as space, the further away the James Webb Space Telescope can see, the further back in time it can look, granting the world unparalleled glimpses of the light from the first galaxies.
This next-generation space observatory will yield vital clues about every stage in the history of the cosmos, from the formation of the universe to the evolution of our own solar system. Expected to launch in 2014, NASA has allowed us sneak peeks at how one goes about building a successor for Hubble.