The James Webb Space Telescope has completed a challenging two-week deployment phase, revealing its massive gold-plated flower-shaped mirror plate as it prepares to study each stage of cosmic history.
Engineering teams at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, cheered Saturday when NASA announced on Twitter the release of the final portion of the 6.5-meter (21-foot) mirror.
Space Telescope Science Institute January 8, 2022
“I’m emotional about it – what an amazing milestone,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s chief engineer, said during the live video stream as stargazers around the world celebrated.
“We’re seeing this beautiful pattern up there in the sky now.”
More powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope, the $10 billion Webb will scan the universe for light streaming from the first stars and galaxies that formed 13.7 billion years ago. To achieve this, NASA had to equip Webb with the largest and most sensitive mirror ever launched – its “golden eye,” as scientists call it.
The telescope is so large that it had to be folded in origami style to fit the rocket that launched from French Guiana two weeks ago.
The most dangerous operation occurred earlier in the week when the sunscreen the size of a tennis court was opened.
The shield will be permanently placed between the telescope and the sun, Earth and Moon, with the side facing the sun built to withstand 110°C (230°F).
the ends of the universe
Flight controllers in Baltimore began opening the “Golden Eye” on Friday, opening the left side like a table with wings draped.
This mirror is made of beryllium, a lightweight, strong and cold-resistant metal. Each of the 18 pieces is covered in an extremely thin layer of gold, highly reflective of infrared light.
Hexagons the size of a coffee table will have to be modified in the coming days and weeks so they can focus on stars, galaxies and alien worlds that might bear the atmospheric signs of life.
“It’s as if we have 18 mirrors that are now a little first-class donut, all doing their own thing, singing their own tune whatever key they’re in, and we have to get them to work like a chorus and that’s a very systematic and painstaking process,” Operations Project Scientist Jane Rigby told reporters.
# People Fully diffused! 🎉
With the successful deployment and closing of our latest mirror suite, this is:
50 major deployments, complete.
178 pins, edited.
20+ years in the business, check.
– NASA’s Web Telescope (NASAWebb) January 8, 2022
Webb must reach his destination 1 million miles (1.6 million km) within another two weeks; It’s already more than 667,000 miles (1 million kilometers) from Earth since it was launched on Christmas Day.
The telescope still has about five and a half months to prepare, according to NASA, and the next steps include aligning the telescope’s optics and calibrating its science instruments.
If all goes well, scientific observations will begin this summer. Astronomers hope to go back 100 million years from the formation of the Big Bang, closer than Hubble achieved.
Its mission also includes the study of distant planets to determine their origin, evolution, and habitability.
Amy Lynn Thompson, a space and science journalist who writes for space.com, called the success in lifting the sun shield and opening the mirrors an “incredibly huge achievement.”
“It took 25 years to make this telescope, and scientists are very prepared for it to get to the point where it can actually send images back, and these were the critical steps that had to happen to make sure that worked,” she told Al Jazeera. .
“What you’re going to do is look at infrared light, that’s the part of the electromagnetic spectrum that we feel as heat. And so stars and galaxies, whenever they form are very hot, so the telescope will look for those heat signals that go back 100 million years after the Big Bang. , which is unbelievable,” she said.
“So not only can we see some of the first stars and galaxies, but we can also smell the atmospheres of exoplanets to see what kind of chemicals are there, and maybe even to find other habitable planets in the universe.”