The James Webb Space Telescope launched into space just before Christmas, can see over 13 billion years – NRK Trøndelag

The James Webb Space Telescope launched into space just before Christmas, can see over 13 billion years - NRK Trøndelag

The day before Christmas Eve will be a very special day for the Head of the Department at the Norwegian Space Centre. Then there is Pål Brekke at the European missile launch base in French Guiana.

He was invited to the east coast of South America to watch the movie “James Webb” as he left the globe. He’s already got tickets.

This is something that I and thousands of other researchers have been looking forward to for many years. Finally, the telescope can now be launched, Pål Brekke tells NRK.

Planned at a man’s age: Pål Brekke has been waiting a long time to get the super telescope.


Long way to the starting shot

A massive Ariane 5 rocket will carry the 6.5-ton telescope into space. The giant binoculars are named after James E. Webb, who was the CEO of NASA in the 1960s.

Norwegian technology cannot be found in the telescope itself. But Pål Brekke says Nammo and Kongsberg Gruppen have delivered critical components for the rocket that will launch “James Webb” into space.

Ariane 5 missile.

50 meters high: the Ariane 5 missile is not a small child.

Photo: Stefan Korvaja / European Space Agency

I started planning and building James Webb 25 years ago. According to the original plans, the telescope was supposed to be launched as early as 2007.

Later, the flight into space was postponed several times. Planned launches in 2011, 2013, 2015, 2018, and 2020 all went down the drain.

But now it finally looks like a new super telescope could become a reality. The telescope is completed and is located at the Space Center in French Guiana. As planned now, “James Webb” begins his journey into the sky at 13.20 Norwegian time, Wednesday, December 22.

But all delays came at a price.

James Webb Space Telescope

18 Gold Hexagons: The telescope’s foldable main mirror has a diameter of 6.5 metres.

Photo: Chris Gunn/NASA

Drain the dollar from the dimensions

Over time, expenses literally grew to astronomical proportions. In 1997, the cost of the telescope, worth today’s kroner, was estimated at 4.5 billion Norwegian kroner. At the time of writing, the total cost to NASA has risen to NOK 86 billion.

In addition to the costs borne by the partners ESA, ESA and CSA Canadian Space Agency.

The launch of the telescope and its instruments will cost the European Space Agency an estimated NOK 7 billion. Canadians contribute instruments and sensors worth just over NOK 1.4 billion.

illustration of

An enormous distance: When “James Webb” is in space, he can look back more than 13 billion years in time.

Illustration: Adriana Manrique Gutierrez/NASA GSFC/CIL

Then we begin to approach the total price of “James Webb” of 100 billion kroner. By comparison, Norway’s entire defense budget for next year is around NOK 70 billion.

Astrophysicist Håkon Dahle at the University of Oslo is convinced that the telescope is worth the price of a telescope if it is working properly.

Dahlé tells NRK that it can give us the story of the evolution of the universe, from the stars lit up today.

Haakon Dahle in the control room of the Hawaiian Observatory

The story of the universe: Håkon Dahle has high expectations from James Webb.

Photo: H.DAHLE / UiO

Håkon Dahle says the reason for all the delays and cost slots is that this was a very complicated task, and it was more difficult than they thought.

And they only have one chance to make it flap once the missile is in the air.

Freeze to more than 200 degrees below zero

James Webb is the successor to the Hubble Telescope, which was launched in 1990. Unlike its predecessor, James Webb will look for light in the infrared spectrum. Infrared light is also called thermal radiation.

If James Webb was able to detect infrared radiation from the dawn of time, he couldn’t emit any heat himself.

To reach a temperature below minus 223 degrees, the telescope must be shielded from the sun. Five layers of very thin canopies will reveal when the telescope is in place in space.

space telescope umbrella

KEEPS THE TEMPERATURE: The screen that protects the telescope from the sun is built in California.

Photo: Chris Gunn/NASA

Even if the launch is successful, there is still a lot that can go wrong.

There is no room for error

This time it’s called the 14 Days of Terror, the period when nothing should go wrong, says Pål Brekke.

Then about 50 different systems will be started. Solar panels, antennas, mirrors, and sun visors will be opened, electrical systems energized, and small and large motors running. NASA has calculated about 300 possible error sources, where everything should work perfectly.

If all goes well, it will take another four months to adjust the mirrors and two months to calibrate the instruments. In half a year, the telescope will be up and running.

Then the astronomers were given an instrument they had never seen before. James Webb becomes hypersensitive.

NASA has provided a good picture of that. If the telescope were on Earth, it would theoretically be able to detect infrared radiation from a leap on the moon, says Pål Brekke.

Space telescope launched

A lot could go wrong: There are simpler jobs than sending a telescope into space.

Illustration: Dr. Ducros / European Space Agency

Looking back to the dawn of time

The telescope will be able to see more than 13 billion light years in the past. The rays of light captured by the telescope were emitted when the universe was young. Even at the speed of light, it took billions of years before the rays reached us.

From this time on, only infrared light reaches our part of the universe.

James Webb will be able to see what happened only 200 million years after the Big Bang, when the universe began.

In this way, the telescope can be described as a kind of time machine. We can see along the way when stars and galaxies formed.

This is the exact time that Håkon Dahle will be conducting the research.

He is among the first to search for images that the telescope returned to Earth. Dahli and his colleagues from several countries will try to find out what happened when the first stars appeared 10 billion years ago.

Exoplanets revolve around stars.

Planets in other solar systems: Spheres that revolve around stars are called exoplanets.

Illustration: ESA

We trust in great discoveries

Håkon Dahle hopes that “James Webb” can contribute to a comprehensive explanation of how galaxies have evolved so far. It is also a mystery why the universe of the other billion has expanded faster than before. It appears that an unknown form of energy has accelerated.

I hope James Webb can shed light on this mystery in the future, says Hokun Dahley.

Pål Brekke has high expectations about what the telescope can discover about the potential for life on other planets.

It is estimated that 300 million planets In our galaxy that has the possibility of life. James Webb can discover many of these planets using one of the instruments on board.

A spectrophotometer examines the spectrum of light emitted by planets. In this way, one can find out what substances are at the surface and in the atmosphere. The spectrometer can also see the temperature of the planet.

Perhaps we can get closer to answering the really big question in space research: “Are we alone?”». Pål Brekke says it would be great.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has created an animation of how they envisioned the James Webb launch.

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