The most powerful telescope ever built is about to change the way we see the universe

The telescope has endured years of delays, including a combination of factors caused by the pandemic and technical challenges. But the world’s most powerful complex space observatory will answer questions about our solar system, study alien planets in new ways, and peer deeper into the universe we once knew. can do it.

Webb will observe the very atmospheres of alien planets, some of which are potentially habitable, and could uncover clues in the ongoing search for life beyond Earth.

The telescope is equipped with a mirror that can span 21 feet and 4 inches (6.5 meters) – a huge length that allows the mirror to collect more light from the objects it observes when the telescope text in space. The more light the mirror can collect, the more detail the telescope can see.

The mirror consists of 18 hexagonal gilded segments, each 4.3 feet (1.32 meters) in diameter.

James Webb Space Telescope tests its giant mirror before launch in 2021

The agency said it was the largest mirror NASA had ever built, but its size created a unique problem. The mirror was so big that it couldn’t fit the rocket. So they designed the telescope as a series of origami-style folding moving parts that fit in a 16-foot (5-meter) space to launch.

Each space telescope builds on the knowledge gained from the previous telescope. In Webb’s case, its mirror is nearly 60 times larger than previous space telescopes, like the retired one. Spitzer . Space Telescope. The observatory also improved the sensitivity and resolution of the Hubble Space Telescope.

According to NASA.

Ball Aerospace optical technician Scott Murray inspects the telescope's first gold main mirror segment.

The concept of the telescope was first envisioned as a successor to Hubble at a conference in 1989, and construction on Webb first began in 2004. Since then, thousands of scientists , technicians and engineers from 14 countries spent 40 million hours building the telescope.

Now, Webb is ready to help us understand the origin of the universe and begin to answer important questions about our existence, such as where we came from and whether we are alone in our existence. universe or not.

What will Webb see?

The Webb telescope will look at every stage of the universe’s history, including the first glows after the big bang that created our universe and the formation of galaxies, stars and planets. Crystal fills it today. Its capabilities will allow the observatory to answer questions about our own solar system and investigate faint signals from the first galaxies that formed 13.5 billion years ago.

Webb’s science goals are ambitious, and scientists around the world will use the time they spend with their telescopes to observe and analyze a broad spectrum of planets, black holes, and astronomical objects. galaxies, the stars, and the structure of the universe itself.

The main focus is on planetary formation and evolution, both within our own solar system as well as the large number of planets beyond it. Of particular concern are planets in the stellar habitable zone, an orbital region where a planet has the right temperature to support liquid water on its surface – which suggests it could be. life support as we know it.

New telescope can search for atmospheres around these exoplanets for a year
Spitzer, as well as NASA’s ongoing planet hunt Mission of the Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), helped scientists set goals for Webb to track, including some of Spitzer’s “biggest successes”. Webb will be able to characterize alien planets beyond Spitzer’s ability to measure the size of a planet and see intricate details about their shape.
For example, in February 2017 Astronomers publish their discovery of seven Earth-sized planets orbiting a star 40 light-years from Earth. With Spitzer’s help, seven exoplanets were all found in tight formation around a super-cool dwarf star known as TRAPPIST-1. All planets bear the name TRAPPIST – which the researchers borrowed from favorite beer.
One of the planned targets for Webb is TRAPPIST-1e, which could support liquid water on its surface. Searching for water could also suggest the potential for life. Another objective for the first stage of the quest is WASP-18b, a fiery “hot Jupiter” with an atmosphere, according to NASA.
This illustration shows the planets of the Trappist-1 system.

Webb is also well equipped to unravel the mysteries of planet formation. Building on Spitzer’s work on brown dwarfs – objects too large to be planets but too small to be stars – Webb was able to take a closer look at their cloud properties.

The telescope will take a closer look at a range of alien planets to see inside their atmospheres, if they have them, and help answer questions about how planets form and evolve. Its spectral data can tell scientists whether methane, carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide is present in the atmosphere. The gases in this alien’s atmosphere could reveal the very building blocks of life.

Other objects of interest in the introspective science campaign include observations of the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, actively forming planetary systems, bright quasars at the centers of galaxies, and leftovers from the formation of our solar system known as the Kuiper Belt Objects that include Pluto and its moon Charon.

What it can do

For all its superlatives, the Webb technique is an extraordinary challenge.

The observatory consists of three main elements.

One is the Integrated Science Instrument Module, which contains Webb’s set of four tools. These devices will mainly be used for imaging or spectroscopy – breaking down light into different wavelengths to determine its physical and chemical components.

The Optical Telescope component, the main eye of the observatory, consists of the mirrors, and the posterior plane, or spine, supports the mirrors. And then there’s the Spaceship Element, which consists of the spacecraft’s bus and sun visor.

This telescope is our next great detective in the universe

The bus consists of six major subsystems required to operate the spacecraft, including propulsion, electrical power, communication, data, and thermal control.

The five-layer sunshade unfolds to be the size of a tennis court and it will protect Webb’s giant mirror and instruments from the heat of the sun because they need to be kept at minus 370 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 188). degrees Celsius) to operate.

This is what the windshield will look like after it is deployed.

The advances used to design and build telescopes even benefit those of us on Earth. A technique developed to quickly and accurately measure mirrors so that they can be polished has been suitable for surgeons performing LASIK eye surgery because it produces a high-definition map of the patient’s eye. .

When to expect the first images

If you have heard of “seven minutes of horror” when the Perseverance rover landed on Mars, the Webb team had much longer wait times and fatigue. The agency has called it “29 days on the sidelines.”

After launching from French Guiana, the observatory will travel for about a month until it reaches an orbit about 1 million miles (1.6 million km) from Earth. During those 29 days, Webb will open its mirrors and open the sun visor. This process involves thousands of parts that must work perfectly in the right order.

Fortunately, each step can be controlled from the ground in the event of a problem.

And then it will undergo a six-month space trial run, which includes cooling down the instruments, alignment and calibration. All tools will go through testing to see how they work.

This image shows a full-scale model of the James Webb Space Telescope at South by Southwest in Austin.

It will then begin collecting data and the first images by the end of 2022. Thousands of scientists have been waiting for years to see what Webb can show us.

“The first year of Webb’s observations will provide the first opportunity for many scientists around the world to observe the items,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, deputy administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA. specifically with NASA’s next big space observatory. . “The amazing science that will be shared with the global community will be bold and insightful.”


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