The world’s largest and most powerful space telescope deployed its giant golden mirror for the last time to Earth on Tuesday, a key milestone ahead of the launch of the $10 billion observatory later this year.
The James Webb Space Telescope’s 21-foot-4-inch (6.5-meter) mirror has been ordered to fully extend and lock into place, NASA said, a final test to ensure it will survive its million mile (1.6 million kilometer) journey and is ready to discover the origins of the Universe.
“It’s like building a Swiss watch 40 feet high…and getting it ready for this journey that we’re taking into the void at minus 400 degrees Fahrenheit (-240 Celsius), four times farther than the Moon,” said said Scott. Willoughby from prime contractor Northrop Grumman.
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He was speaking at the company’s spaceport in Redondo Beach, California, from where the telescope will be shipped to French Guiana for launch on an Ariane 5 rocket, with NASA targeting October 31 for liftoff.
Webb’s primary mirror is made up of 18 hexagonal segments coated with an ultra-thin layer of gold to enhance its reflection of infrared light.
It will fly through space folded like an origami piece of art, allowing it to fit inside a 16-foot (5-meter) rocket fairing, and then use 132 individual actuators and motors to bend each mirror to a specific position.
Together, the mirrors will function as a massive reflector, to allow the telescope to peer deeper into the cosmos than ever before.
Scientists want to use the telescope to travel back in time more than 13.5 billion years ago and see for the first time the first stars and galaxies that formed a few hundred million years after the Big Bang.
To do this, they must detect infrared. The current first space telescope, Hubble, has only limited infrared capability.
This is essential because, by the time the light from the first objects reaches our telescopes, it has been shifted to the red end of the electromagnetic spectrum due to the expansion of space between objects by the Universe over time. extent of its expansion.
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Another key area will be the discovery of extraterrestrial worlds. The first planets orbiting other stars were detected in the 1990s and there are now over 4,000 exoplanets that have been confirmed.
Webb “has instruments that will propel this exciting new field into its next saga of discovery,” said James Webb Telescope Program Scientist Eric Smith.
Scientists from 44 countries will be able to use the telescope, with proposals including using infrared capabilities to penetrate supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies, including our own.
“Webb’s capacity for discovery is limited only by our own imaginations, and scientists around the world will soon use this versatile observatory to take us places we never dreamed of going before,” Smith said.
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