When I look up at the stars, I love to wonder what kind of planets might be around each one. Every star is a sun, and astronomers have found thousands of planets orbiting other stars, called exoplanets. Perhaps there are intelligent beings on a distant planet, looking back at our sun—a star to them—wondering the same thing.
We astronomers are unabashedly anticipating a paradigm shift in exoplanet characterization—made possible by a sophisticated new telescope over 30 years in the making: the James Webb Space Telescope, set for launch this October. Webb will undergo a series of daunting deployments, including the unfurling of a tennis court-sized, five-layer sunshield before reaching its destination a million miles away from Earth. Thousands of astronomers all around the world have pinned their research hopes and dreams on Webb, not just for exoplanets but for many frontier topics in astronomy. But for those of us studying exoplanets, Webb will open a new window.
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