On November 2 2021, Facebook user “Burnt Goathead” posted about the James Webb Space Telescope, heralding its purported launch on December 18 2021 and claiming:
So, possibly one of the biggest events to happen during our lifetime is about to happen on Dec. 18th of this year [of 2021], yet I’m surprised to see that no one in the press seems to be talking about it. The James Webb Space Telescope is scheduled to launch on that very day. What is that? It’s the successor to the Hubble, only 3 times as large and 100 times more powerful. NASA has been working on it for 25 years and it’s a miracle they were able to complete it. It was almost canceled in 2011.
The technology on this telescope will launch nothing short of an astronomical revolution and two major historical events:
– We will be able to see if there is life on the exoplanets we’ve discovered and detect whether the atmospheres of those planets are being modified by that life.
– We will be able to see the first stars and galaxies ever created from the Big Bang.
That’s right, this telescope will literally look back in time to view the very first galaxies and allow us to witness the birth of our known Universe.
That’s some crazy stuff, man.
Crazy, crazy stuff.
Appended to the post was a stock photograph of space, which was published as early as 2018. The post also began with an observation that “no one in the press seems to be talking about it”; coverage of the James Webb Space Telescope existed, but it was indeed scant.
Primarily, the post focused on two subclaims:
- We will be able to see if there is life on the exoplanets we’ve discovered and detect whether the atmospheres of those planets are being modified by that life.
- We will be able to see the first stars and galaxies ever created from the Big Bang … this telescope will literally look back in time to view the very first galaxies and allow us to witness the birth of our known Universe.
NASA maintained a landing page, “James Webb Space Telescope (JWST),” with several sections providing information about the endeavor, including December 18 2021 as the projected launch date. A NASAfacts Webb Space Telescope document [PDF] gave more information about the telescope.
One of the documents sections was titled “Seeking Light from the First Galaxies in the Universe,” and it addressed the second bullet point above — that the JWST would “look back in time”:
Webb will directly observe a part of space and time never seen before. Webb will gaze into the epoch when the very first stars and galaxies formed, over 13.5 billion years ago. Ultraviolet and visible light emitted by the very first luminous objects has been stretched or “redshifted” by the universe’s continual expansion and arrives today as infrared light. Webb is designed to “see” this infrared light with unprecedented resolution and sensitivity.
A second highlighted section, “Exploring Distant Worlds and the Solar System,” addressed the first bullet point about life on other planets and exoplanets:
Webb will also be a powerful tool for studying the nearby universe. Scientists will use Webb to study planets and other bodies in our solar system to determine their origin and evolution and compare them with exoplanets, planets that orbit other stars. Webb will also observe exoplanets located in their stars’ habitable zones, the regions where a planet could harbor liquid water on its surface, and can determine if and where signatures of habitability may be present. Using a technique called transmission spectroscopy, the observatory will examine starlight filtered through planetary atmospheres to learn about their chemical compositions.
A very popular Facebook post claimed the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) was scheduled to launch on December 18 2021, and that the event was not broadly discussed in the news; the first claim was objective and true, the second subjective — but not entirely untrue. Additional claims about the Webb Telescope’s abilities to “look back in time” and scan for life on other planets and exoplanets were present in NASA’s JWST fact sheet.