Super Telescope: Mission To The Edge Of The Universe: release date of Horizon documentary and how to watch

A new BBC Two documentary explores how the James Webb Space Telescope, which is 100 times more powerful than Hubble, was constructed

Super Telescope: Mission To The Edge Of The Universe is a special one-off documentary which follows the construction of the James Webb Space Telescope.

The feat of engineering was two decades in the making and was designed to be a successor to Hubble, which was launched into orbit in 1990.

The first images from the James Webb telescope, which show the deepest infrared view of the universe ever captured were revealed this week.

Images of deep space taken by the James Webb Space Telescope

What is Super Telescope about?

The BBC Two documentary is the latest in the Horizon series of BBC science features which includes Pluto: Back from the Dead, a feature about the dwarf planet, and Hubble: The Wonders of Space Revealed, which explores the findings of the Hubble telescope.

Super Telescope gives the inside story of how the James Webb Space Telescope was constructed, and the work of the astronomers behind the project.

The complicated plan included building a mirror which is six times larger than Hubble’s, and a huge sun shield, both of which needed to fold up inside a rocket and then unfold once in orbit.

178 release devices on the telescope all needed to operate effectively whilst in space - if just one of them failed it could have jeopardised the entire project, essentially jettisoning $10 billion dollars into space.

The James Webb Space Telescope cost $10 billion

The documentary also sheds light on the telescope’s mission - to look further back in time than any telescope in history, and help to uncover the secrets of how the early universe was formed.

The James Webb telescope will look 13.6 billion light years away, an unimaginable distance - one light year is roughly 6 trillion miles. The maximum distance the telescope can see in miles is 816 followed by 20 zeros.

Because the telescope is so sensitive, it is also possible that it will be able to detect signs of life in the far reaches of the universe, potentially answering the question of where we are alone in the expanse of space.

What is the James Webb Space Telescope?

The James Webb is the successor to Hubble, and launched into space three decades after its predecessor.

The technological jump between the two bits of kit is vast - it’s the equivalent of the iPhone 13 compared to the Nokia brick.

In fact, the James Webb is 100 times more powerful than Hubble and is the most technically advanced telescope ever built.

The telescope cost $10 billion, the lion’s share of which came from the US, and was launched into space from French Guiana in December 2021.

It is now roughly 1 million miles away from the Earth in orbit around the Sun.

The telescope is named after James E. Webb, the second administrator of Nasa - he was in the role for most of the 1960s, during the space race and in the years preceding the Apollo mission that landed the first man on the moon.

When is Super Telescope on TV?

Super Telescope: Mission To The Edge Of The Universe is a one-hour documentary that will air on BBC Two at 8pm on 14 July.

The documentary will be available to watch on BBC iPlayer shortly after it is first broadcast, along with other Horizon features including Hubble: The Wonders of Space Revealed.