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Cosmic Origins

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In order to understand how the Universe has changed from its initial simple state following the Big Bang into the magnificent Universe we see as we look at the night sky, we must understand how stars, galaxies and planets are formed over time. The Universe is comprised of mostly hydrogen and helium. in fact, these two elements make up 98% of the visible matter in the Universe. Nevertheless, our world and everything it contains–even life itself–is possible only because of the existence of heavier elements such as carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, silicon, iron, and many, many others.

How long did it take the first generations of stars to seed our Universe with the heavy elements we see on Earth today? When in the history of the Universe was there a sufficient supply of heavy elements to allow the formation of prebiotic molecules and terrestrial-like planets upon which those molecules might combine to form life?

Our big question: "How did the universe originate and evolve to produce the galaxies, stars and planets we see today?"

*Sort missions by clicking the column headers.

DivisionNameLaunch DatePhase
Astrophysics Herschel
The Herschel Space Observatory is a space-based telescope that will study the Universe by the light of the far-infrared and submillimeter portions of the spectrum. It is expected to reveal new information about the earliest, most distant stars and galaxies, ...
20090514 May 14, 2009 4Past
Astrophysics Hubble Space Telescope (HST)
Hubble Space Telescope (HST), an ultraviolet, visible and infrared orbiting telescope, has expanded our understanding of star birth, star death, and galaxy evolution, and has helped move black holes from theory to fact. It has recorded over 100,000 images in ...
19900424 April 24, 1990 3Operating
JWST
James Webb Space Telescope (formerly the Next Generation Space Telescope) is designed for observations in the far visible to the mid infrared part of the spectrum. JWST will probe the era when stars and galaxies started to form; it will ...
20180101 2018 2Development
Astrophysics SOFIA
SOFIA is the world's largest airborne observatory. It studies the universe over a wide range of the electromagnetic spectrum, from the optical to the far infrared.
3Operating
Astrophysics Spitzer
Spitzer Space Telescope (formerly known as SIRTF) conducts infrared astronomy from space. From an unusual heliocentric orbit designed to keep its sensitive instruments away from Earth's radiated heat, Spitzer has detected several distant objects, including several supermassive black holes, that ...
20030825 August 25, 2003 3Operating