Imagine seeing distant galaxies as they existed 13 billion years ago. With NASA's James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), this will be a reality.

The JWST, the powerful successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, will launch in 2019 after decades of development. The $8 billion telescope will be tested by a select group of scientists to prove it's in good working order. Steven Finkelstein, UT Austin's associate professor of astronomy, will be leading the project as the principal investigator.

"This telescope will reveal enormous truths the moment we turn it on," Finkelstein said.

Finkelstein leads the Cosmic Evolution Early Release Science (CEERS) Survey team that continues the work of the Hubble Space Telescope, studying the oldest galaxies in the universe. The CEERS team consists of 105 astronomers from 10 countries, with researchers from 28 U.S. universities.

Finkelstein said, "(Using Webb) we will discover the most distant galaxies ever seen — galaxies that were literally invisible to Hubble."

He explained that Webb will see galaxies as they existed 13.4 billion years ago, when the universe was less than 3 percent of its current age.

The data Finkelstein's team collects will be immediately available to researchers and scientists around the world.

UT Austin astronomy faculty are involved in five of the telescope's 13 early release science programs, and are taking important roles as co-investigators on three other projects.