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Space Telescopes to Bring Solar System to Life in Full 3D

Nov 01, 2016 04:49 AM EDT
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Two of the world’s most powerful telescopes – the Hubble Space Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope - will work together to showcase 3D images and movies of planets, comets and other space objects for the first time.
(Photo : NASA via Getty Images)

For the first time, two powerful telescopes will work together to bring the solar system to life in full 3D images and movies.

When the new James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) starts scientific operations in 2019, it will be in space at the same time with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope to capture images in extreme depth and detail.

JWST will be 1.5 million kilometers away from Hubble, which is in near-Earth orbit, in a location called the L2 point - the spot opposite Earth and the sun. The separation between the two telescopic nodal points will allow scientists to obtain simultaneously captured stereoscopic images of asteroids, comets, moons and planets in the solar system, scientists said in a statement. Pointing the two telescopes at the same object, given the wide separation, will provide a unique opportunity to view space in an angle that shows a sense of depth perceptible to the eye.

"This was never possible before because we never had two telescopes with this kind of resolution in space at the same time," Joel Green, project scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, said in a report by New Scientist.

According to the researchers, the stereoscopic images will help engage the public more with unprecedented views of various objects in the solar system, given the resurgence in stereo-3D movies and the recent emergence of VR-enabled mobile devices.

Green and his colleagues had studied the telescopes' joint capabilities to see how they could showcase space objects in 3D. Among these are the rolling clouds of Jupiter and its moons, atmospheric dust and a mountain peak on Mars, or a comet approaching the sun.

Moreover, the duo could offer impressive views of the rapidly changing phenomena, such as Jupiter's storms, comet emissions, or impacts on rocky planets.

Hubble, which has been sending back stunning images of the universe for 26 years, is scheduled to retire in 2021. Its larger successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, is still being developed at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland and will remain on Earth for the next two years. When it is finally ready to operate, JWST will allow scientists to see the oldest stars in the universe and to understand how stars, galaxies, and planetary systems were formed.

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