May 21, 2022

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The James Webb Space Telescope will provide answers to astronomy's biggest questions

The James Webb Space Telescope will provide answers to astronomy’s biggest questions

The project ran for three decades. After a long series of delays, the launch was planned for Christmas Eve.

The James Webb Telescope, named after a former NASA chief, will pick up the thread after the legendary Hubble telescope. Scientists believe it will be able to show humans what the universe looked like up to the beginning 14 billion years ago.

For this to be possible, they had to build a completely unusual machine.

The James Webb Telescope is sensitive enough to see the thermal signature of a leap on the moon, said John Mather, one of the founders of the project, and a Nobel laureate. He is a cosmologist and astrophysicist.

Sensitivity at this level is necessary to capture the faint glow from the first stars and galaxies that formed.

see the past

The universe is so vast that it is difficult to comprehend. The James Webb Telescope will examine the most distant observable objects.

Since light takes time to move, examining distant objects is the same as observing the past. The dim light from the early universe moved over 13 billion years ago before space telescope sensors picked it up.

How far we can see is determined by how sensitive the equipment is.

The Hubble Space Telescope, once a pioneer in the field, is sensitive enough to see events in space about 500 million years after the Big Bang.

Webb could look even further into the past. Scientists hope to be able to observe conditions 200 million years after the beginning of the universe.

newborn galaxies

Expectations are high.

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The telescope is designed to answer the biggest questions in astronomy today, NASA astrophysicist Amber Straugen said in a statement. TED Lecture in 2017.

“Using the James Webb Telescope, we can hope to observe these infant galaxies and learn more about how they grew over time,” she continued.

One of the problems with telescopes on Earth is that the atmosphere causes haze and interference. The largest telescopes are located on high mountaintops to minimize the problem.

By placing a telescope in space, the problem is completely circumvented. See distant stars and galaxies unobstructed.

Are we alone?

Another important area of ​​research for the new telescope is exoplanets – planets orbiting distant stars.

Since the discovery of the first exoplanets in the 1990s, a deluge of discoveries has been made, and the number of confirmed discoveries approaches 5,000. NASA’s Kepler space telescope has contributed nearly 2,600 of them over the course of nearly ten years, until it ran out of fuel in 2018.

The James Webb Telescope can help find more and reveal the secrets of those who have already been discovered. By capturing the light that shines through the atmosphere as a planet passes in front of a star, the telescope can provide answers to what it contains.

The ultimate goal is to find out if Earth is unique, or whether there are similar planets where life arose.

Researchers in line

– There is a lot of excitement, we have been waiting for this moment for a long time, one of the researchers associated with the project, Pierre Ferrouette of the European Space Agency (ESA), tells AFP.

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Esa and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) are collaborating with NASA on the space telescope, and Ferruit has worked with the telescope for most of his career—in much the same way as thousands of fellow researchers.

The competition for watch time is already underway.

– Demand is very high. He says Esa received more than a thousand applications for the first year of her work alone.

Even after 20 years, the questions Webb was asked to answer are still pressing.

It must be folded

The space telescope is larger and more complex than any of the other space telescopes that have been built.

The mirror has a diameter of 6.5 meters – three times larger than the Hubble mirror. It consists of 18 hexagonal sections. In order to put it on board the Ariane 5 rocket that will lift it into space, it was necessary to fold it.

Once the telescope is launched, the challenge is to open the mirror and put up an umbrella the size of a tennis court. The idea is to take it gently and carefully. Two weeks are devoted to this process.

As Hubble orbits 600 kilometers above Earth, James Webb will travel much farther.

The space telescope will orbit the Sun 1.5 million kilometers from the home planet, at one of the so-called Lagrangian Points where it can be kept in a stable orbit with the Earth, Moon and Sun hidden behind the sun’s canopy at all times.

– Here the weather will be dark and freezing cold, says Verwett. The conditions are thus ideal for James Webb’s infrared sensors, which can detect thermal radiation outside the visible spectrum.

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The ability to see infrared radiation is another feature that distinguishes James Webb from Hubble and gives it a greater amplitude than its predecessor.

tight birth

The James Webb Telescope has been on the drawing board for over 30 years.

The original NASA project began in 1989, and the original plan was to launch the telescope in the early 2000s.

Since then, a large number of problems have led to delays and budget overruns. Compared to the original budget, the price has tripled to about $10 billion, or about NOK 90 billion.

The space telescope was built in the United States and moved to the European Space Center at Kourou in French Guiana earlier this year.

After a minor accident in late November and new small issues, the launch date has been set for December 24th at 13.20 Norwegian time. It is estimated that the trip to the L2 Lagrange point will take one month.

Now all that’s left is to fill up the fuel tanks, says Ferruit.

It may be the all-time Christmas gift canvas for the world’s astronomers.