Friday, August 12, 2022

Things to know about NASA’s $10 million James Webb Space Telescope

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The images released on July 12 show infrared images from deep in the Universe.

July 12 (News) — NASA’s $10 million James Webb Space Telescope has sent its first set of images from space, offering a view of space farther from Earth than ever before.

Here’s a closer look at the storied telescope, the largest and most powerful ever launched into space.

The Webb telescope consists of 18 hexagonal mirrors that together have a diameter of 21 feet. Its light-gathering area is about six times that of its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope. It is powerful enough to allow NASA to observe the chemical composition of other planets and determine if they are habitable.

The telescope’s infrared view can look 13.5 billion years into the universe’s past — seeing the light from the first stars and galaxies as they formed after the Big Bang. Unlike the Hubble telescope, which orbits Earth, Webb hovers at a special spot in space known as the Lagrange point, nearly 1 million miles from the planet.

It took about 300 procedures to roll out the observatory’s tennis court-sized sun visor. The supercooled infrared instruments will be used to observe exoplanets, black holes and galaxies that formed 13.5 billion years ago, the earliest ever seen. But those instruments must be so cold — minus 370 degrees F — that sunlight or even Webb’s own engines could cause interference. The sunshade shields the instruments from the heat.

Webb’s 18 gilded mirrors collect light from the depths of the universe and reflect that light to an instrument that collects it. The primary mirror is 21 feet in diameter, significantly larger than Hubble’s primary mirror, which is 7.9 feet in diameter. This allows Webb to gather more light and see distant objects better.

Arianespace’s Ariane 5 rocket lifted off with the telescope on December 25 at 7:20 am EST from the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana. The telescope is a joint venture between NASA, the Canadian Space Agency and the European Space Agency. Northrop Grumman built the giant telescope in California from 2004.

Operations have since been handed over to the Baltimore-based nonprofit Space Telescope Science Institute, which also operates Hubble. Webb has enough fuel to last beyond his 10-year maximum lifespan.

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