January 28, 2023

The most powerful telescope in history could change the way we see the universe

This is a long-awaited moment. The launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, NASA’s first observatory in the next decade, scheduled for December 18 in French Guiana.

The telescope has been delayed for years, adding to a number of factors caused by the epidemic and technical challenges. But now the world’s most powerful space observatory will answer questions about our solar system, study exoplanets in new ways, and look at our universe in a way we couldn’t before.

James Webb will look at the atmospheres of exoplanets, some of which are potentially habitable, and may reveal evidence of the ongoing search for life beyond Earth.

The telescope is equipped with a mirror that can be up to 6.5 meters in length, a length that allows the device to capture more light from objects observed in space. The more light the mirror captures, the more detail the telescope can see.

The mirror contains 18 gold-plated hexagons, each 1.32 m in diameter.

According to NASA, it’s the largest mirror the agency has ever built, but its size created another problem. The mirror was too large to fit on the rocket. So the telescope had to be designed as a series of moving parts that could fold like origami and fit into the 5m launch space.

Each space telescope builds on the knowledge gained from the previous telescope. In the case of James Webb, his mirror is about 60 times larger than previous space telescopes such as the retired Spitzer Space Telescope. The observatory has also improved its sensitivity and accuracy with respect to Hubble Space Telescope.

According to NASA, Webb will act as an infrared investigator, detecting light invisible to us and revealing hidden regions of space.

The telescope was first conceived as a successor to the Hubble Telescope in 1989, and construction began in 2004. Since then, thousands of scientists, technicians, and engineers from 14 countries have spent 40 million hours working on the telescope.

Now Webb is ready to help us understand the origins of the universe and begin answering key questions about our existence, such as where we come from, and whether we are alone in the universe.

What will he see on the web?

The Webb Telescope will look at every stage of cosmic history, including the first radiation after the Big Bang that created the universe and the formation of galaxies, stars and planets. Its properties will allow the observatory to answer questions about our solar system and investigate faint signals from the first galaxies that formed 13.5 billion years ago.

Webb’s science goals are ambitious, and scientists around the world will use their allotted time with the telescope to observe and analyze a broad spectrum of planets, black holes, galaxies, stars, and the structure of the universe itself.

A major focus is the formation and evolution of planets, both in our solar system and in a large number of samples beyond. Of particular interest are planets within a star’s habitable zone, the orbital region where a planet has the right temperature for liquid water to exist on its surface – suggesting that it could support life as we know it.

The observatory consists of three main components; One is the Integrated Scientific Instruments Module, which contains a set of four instruments from Webb/Chris Gunn/NASA

The Spitzer Telescope, in addition to NASA’s ongoing Transiting Exoplanet Research (TESS) mission, has helped scientists identify Web-watching goals, including some of Spitzer’s “great successes.” Webb will be able to describe exoplanets, bypassing Spitzer’s ability to measure the size of a planet, and see the intricate details of their appearance.

In February 2017, for example, astronomers announced the discovery of seven Earth-sized planets orbiting a star 40 light-years from Earth. With the help of Spitzer, the seven exoplanets were found close to each other in orbit around a cold dwarf star called TRAPPIST-1. Each planet is called TRAPPIST, a tribute by researchers to their favorite beer.

One of Webb’s targets is TRAPPIST-1e, which can harbor liquid water on its surface. Finding water can also indicate the possibility of life. Another target for launching the mission is WASP-18b, a “hot Jupiter” with an atmosphere, according to NASA.

Webb is also equipped to shed light on the mysteries of the formation of planets. Based on Spitzer’s work studying brown dwarfs, objects too large to be planets but too small to be stars, Webb can take a closer look at the properties of their clouds.

The telescope will analyze a group of exoplanets and consider their atmospheres, if any, and help answer questions about how planets formed and evolved. Their spectroscopic data can tell scientists whether methane, carbon dioxide, or carbon monoxide is present in the atmosphere. The gases within these atmospheres can reveal the basis of life.

Other objects of interest to the initial science mission include observing the black hole at the center of the Milky Way, planetary systems in formation, bright quasars at the center of galaxies, and remnants of our Solar System’s formation known as Kuiper Belt objects, including Pluto. And its moon Sharon.

What can he do

With all of these qualities, the Webb project was an unusual challenge. The observatory consists of three main components.

One is the Integrated Scientific Tools module, which contains a set of four web tools. They will be used primarily for image capture or spectroscopy – breaking light into different wavelengths to identify physical and chemical components.

The second component of the telescope is the optics, which is the observatory’s main eye, which includes the mirrors and the shaft, or spine, that supports the mirrors. The third is called the spaceship, which includes the space shuttle and the sun shield.

The shuttle includes six major subsystems needed to operate the spacecraft, including thrust controls, electrical power, communications, data, and temperature.

The five-tier sunscreen is the size of a tennis court, and will protect Webb’s massive mirror and instruments from the sun’s heat, as they must be kept at an operating temperature of -188°C.

The innovations used in designing and building the telescope also have benefits for us on Earth. A technology has been developed to quickly and accurately measure mirrors so they can be polished. Then it’s adapted for ophthalmologists performing grade-correcting LASIK surgery, creating high-resolution maps of patients’ eyes.

When will we see the first pictures?

Have you ever heard of “Seven Minutes of Terror” when the Persevering Robot landed on Mars? The web team will have a longer and stressful waiting period. The agency referred to this as “29 days on the limit.”

After its launch in French Guiana, the observatory will travel for about a month until it reaches an orbit about 1.6 million kilometers from Earth. During these 29 days, Webb will open her mirrors and spread the sun shield. This process includes thousands of parts that should work perfectly and in the correct sequence.

Fortunately, every step of the floor can be controlled in case of problems.

The telescope will then undergo a six-month period of space preparation, instrument cooling, alignment and calibration. All tools will undergo a validation process to assess their performance.

After that, Webb will begin collecting data, and the first images later in 2022. Thousands of scientists have been waiting for years to see what Webb can show us.

“The first year of the Webb Telescope will provide the first opportunity for many scientists around the world to observe specific objects with NASA’s upcoming Main Space Observatory,” Thomas Zurbuchen, deputy director of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement. “The science to be shared with the global community will be bold and profound.”

(* This text has been translated Click Here To read the original text in English)