December shows at Manfred Olson Planetarium explores exoplanets
The James Webb Space Telescope — NASA’s successor to the Hubble Telescope — was launched on Dec. 25, 2021. The first images from Webb were revealed in July of this year and the results are breathtaking, showing more color and detail than ever before.
As the largest, most powerful space telescope ever built, the James Webb will serve as the premier deep space observatory for the next decade. Its capabilities will expand the search for new and exciting worlds beyond our solar system, including exploring exoplanets.
UW-Milwaukee’s Manfred Olson Planetarium has an upcoming show all about exoplanets, and according to its directorJean Creighton, exoplanets are exciting because of the scientific possibilities that they hold. "Exoplanets are planets not in the solar system... 20 years ago, we didn't have the technology to find them and since then, we have found more than 5,000 exoplanets, of which approximately 300 are similar to the Earth," she says.
The technological advancements from the scientific field such as the highly powerful James Webb telescope have allowed the discoveries of more exoplanets. The mirror of the Webb telescope is four times bigger than its predecessor, the Hubble telescope.
Though exoplanets can be scientifically exciting, Creighton notes the Webb's main objective is not to investigate every exoplanet. "We're not going to use the James Webb to look at planets that are too close, say to their star, because that's not promising for life or too far. We would want to focus on what we call the Goldilocks Zone — not too close, not too far."
Creighton explains that finding intelligent life that is comparable to ours is unlikely, but the signs of any life are equally exciting. "At this point, we're talking about what we call biosignatures, probably microorganisms," she says.