What we know about the expansion of the James Webb . space telescope

The most powerful telescope ever launched into space has completed a meticulous assembly process that has puzzled astronomers for weeks.

Since it Christmas morning debut, the James Webb Space Telescope has made all the right moves. Now it has passed the final stage of the complex deployment phase.

In these final steps, two plates on either side of an array of 18 gold-plated hexagonal mirrors, folded during the telescope’s launch, were mounted in place to complete Webb’s honeycomb-like reflector. . The 21-foot-wide mirror sends light from space into an auxiliary mirror, which then reflects the light onto the telescope’s main infrared sensor.

The expansion of the mirrors is an important milestone on the road to using telescopes for scientific studies of the Big Bang, alien planets, black holes, and our own solar system. Now that it’s done, NASA considers the telescope “fully deployed.”

The telescope’s unfolding phase ended Saturday morning, after the right mirror of its remaining three-mirror segment was fixed into place. The left side completed the rollout on Friday, a process that took five and a half hours.

A live NASA video stream shows mission managers overseeing the deployment from the Space Telescope Science Institute’s mission control room in Baltimore, the telescope’s hub of operations.

Around 8:53 a.m. EST, the mission’s administrators sent the first command to begin opening the mirrors. Just before 10:30, the control panel slowly opened so that the three hexagonal mirrors fit snugly into the remaining 15. That process ends at 1:17 pm

“How do people feel about making history? You’ve just done that,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, chief science officer of NASA, in mission remarks at the Space Science Telescope Institute in Baltimore.

Earlier in the live video program, Dr Zurbuchen described himself feeling emotional when the telescope’s mirror was finally in place.

“What an incredible milestone,” he said. “We see that beautiful model out there in the sky is now almost complete.”

But it is not possible to see what is happening on the telescope itself.

Rockets and some spacecraft carry built-in cameras so engineers on Earth can monitor their behavior in space. So one would expect engineers to pack the cameras aboard the James Webb Space Telescope, the most technically complex and expensive observatory ever launched into space, with 344″ single points of error. “.


There is no surveillance camera on the telescope. Instead, engineers depend on switches, sensors, and motors to monitor its health during deployment.

NASA abandoned the idea of ​​including surveillance cameras on Webb because of technical complexity and risk. The novel size and shape of the telescope – with one side of the sun visor deflecting enormous amounts of heat and sunlight and the other a heavy instrument shrouded in frigid darkness – would require many custom built cameras. This agency explain in a blog post.

“Adding a doorbell cam or even a rocket cam isn’t as simple as adding a doorbell cam or even a rocket cam.

Since launching Webb, engineers have completed more than a dozen key steps in the implementation phase to bring the telescope to its final form, which includes hundreds of moving parts such as switches, motors, pulleys, and pulleys. Cable. The process began less than 30 minutes after launch last month, when Webb’s solar array was deployed – the only step captured on video as the telescope left space with its rocket, which has an onboard camera.

The telescope has passed a number of milestones since then, doing a good job of alleviating astronomers’ anxiety and quelling fears that a structure as complex as Webb is bound to run into trouble. its million-mile trip to the place in space where it will be. The telescope is powered on, deploys an antenna, mechanically unfolds the various limbs and, in a most technically complex milestone, is deftly stretched five layers of a sheet of plastic the size of tennis courts designed to shield the telescope’s super-sensitive camera sensors from the sun’s heat.

The Webb telescope was designed to probe a key passage of the early universe’s history, known to astronomers as the dark ages.

Cosmologists surmise that the first stars appeared when the universe was only about 100 million years old. (It is 13.8 billion years old today.) The earliest and most distant galaxy seen by astronomers, using the Hubble Space Telescope, dates to the older universe, 400 million years after the Big Bang. What happened during that period of 300 million years of interference when the universe lit up, how the Big Bang turned into a sky full of constellations and life, is a mystery.

The telescope will also help astronomers better study the supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies and planets orbiting other stars in our galaxy.

To achieve these scientific observations, the Webb telescope relies on a main mirror 6.5 meters in diameter, compared to the one on Hubble which is 2.4 meters. That gives it about seven times more light-gathering capacity and thus the ability to see further into the past.

Another important difference is that it is equipped with cameras and other devices that are sensitive to infrared, or “thermal” radiation. The expansion of the universe causes light that is normally at visible wavelengths to convert to longer infrared wavelengths that are invisible to the human eye.

Engineers had to invent 10 new technologies to make the telescope more sensitive than Hubble. Overly optimistic schedule projections, infrequent development accidents, and disorganized expense reports dragged the timeline to 2021 and raised total costs to $10 billion.

To understand the observability of the James Webb Space Telescope and how it will aid astronomers in their research, try these two augmented reality experiences in your own space with your phone smart login Instagram.

The first will show you the location in space and time that Webb will see with a 3-D map of the observable universe. It outlines some of the spacecraft’s early goals, including potentially Earth-like planets and the earliest known galaxies. Try it here on Instagram.

A second augmented reality experience shows how Webb will augment images from the power of gravitational lenses.

Place a virtual black hole in your space and see how it acts like a magnifying glass to your surroundings. This same technique will help astronomers study the early universe. Try it here on Instagram.

Noah Pisner contribution report.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/08/science/webb-telescope-nasa-time-livestream.html What we know about the expansion of the James Webb . space telescope

Fry Electronics Team

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