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Astronomy 2e

Thinking Ahead

Astronomy 2eThinking Ahead

Illustration of the James Webb Space Telescope. The segmented primary mirror is at top, pointing to the left. At bottom is the multi-layered sunshield.
Figure 29.1 The Largest Space Telescope. This drawing shows the James Webb Space Telescope, which launched in 2021 and began operations in 2022. The silver sunshade shadows the 18-segment mirror and the science instruments, which operate at extremely cold temperatures. The primary mirror is 6.5 meters (21 feet) in diameter. To see distant galaxies whose light has been shifted to long wavelengths, the telescope will carry several instruments for taking infrared images and spectra. (credit: modification of work by NASA)

In previous chapters, we explored the contents of the universe—planets, stars, and galaxies—and learned about how these objects change with time. But what about the universe as a whole? How old is it? What did it look like in the beginning? How has it changed since then? What will be its fate?

Cosmology is the study of the universe as a whole and is the subject of this chapter. The story of observational cosmology really begins in 1929 when Edwin Hubble published observations of redshifts and distances for a small sample of galaxies and showed the then-revolutionary result that we live in an expanding universe—one which in the past was denser, hotter, and smoother. From this early discovery, astronomers developed many predictions about the origin and evolution of the universe and then tested those predictions with observations. In this chapter, we will describe what we already know about the history of our dynamic universe and highlight some of the mysteries that remain.

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