The long-awaited launch of NASA’s next-generation observatory, the James Webb Weltraumteleskop, is only a month away.
The $ 9.8 billion webb has weathered years of technical delays, funding problems, and a pandemic to get to French Guiana launch day slated for not before December 18th.
Webb will have one ambitious science agenda from the investigation of small worlds in our solar system to the measurement of the outer areas of the universe. “We’re going to look at everything there is in the universe that we can see,” said John Mather, Webb’s lead project scientist, at a news conference on Wednesday, November 18.
“We want to know how did we get here?” added Mather, who works at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. “The Big Bang, How does this work? We’ll see, yes, and we have predictions. But we honestly don’t know [how].”
As the successor to NASA’s venerable Hubble Space Telescope, Webb will travel to a distant destination about 1.6 million kilometers from Earth known as the Lagrange point, a gravitationally stable point between two celestial bodies.
It will Take Webb a month to get there after the start. The observatory will then go through a six-month commissioning phase that spans a variety of key milestones, from deploying its complex mirror to making sure all instruments are working properly before Webb opens his eyes.
“At six and a half meters [21 feet], The primary mirror was too big to fit in a rocket, so we designed it to unfold in space, ”said Lee Feinberg, Webb Optical Telescope Element Manager at Goddard, during today’s briefing. “It doesn’t fold like a drop leaf table, so … we needed mirrors that had to be in segments.”
The mirrors, Feinberg added, initially act like 18 separate telescopes, and it will take several months for algorithms to align them correctly, to an accuracy of one to 5,000th the diameter of a human hair. And that assumes that Telescope unfolds got them all right, which (despite years of testing and modeling) is one of the biggest technical barriers to Webb, according to NASA.
Webb investigators are shy about what the telescope will focus on first when it’s done. But hints come from the list of “Science programs for early publications“That will prioritize Webb’s core science in the study of planets, the solar system, galaxies, black holes, star physics, and star population.
The first images will be in great demand as the mission scientists say the resolution will be 100 times better than Hubble’s and will show a lot more in infrared (or heat) wavelengths than the older telescope.
While the first goals have not yet been set, Webb will soon turn back the clock of observations of the universe and provide a glimpse into the cosmos as it was only 100 million years after the Big Bang. Hubble has enabled scientists to look back 400 million years after the Big Bang, so Webb will fill a void, Mather said.
Canada provides a fine line sensor to align Webb along with a spectrograph for inspection Exoplanets and galaxies. The nation receives a guaranteed share of 5% of the observation time for its contribution.
“A Canadian team will focus its studies on the atmospheres of exoplanets to determine their composition and temperatures. Another Canadian team will study some of the first galaxies ever formed and galaxies gathered in dense neighborhoods called clusters, ”said Sarah Gallagher, an adviser to the President of the Canadian Space Agency.
What excites scientists most is the unpredictability of what Webb will reveal, and even a quick look at Hubble’s history offers many examples. When Hubble was launched in April 1990, nobody knew of the existence of dark energy, a fundamental influence on cosmic expansion. Exoplanets were also not yet confirmed, and yet we know of thousands today.
Hubble even found some surprises near his home, for example when it helped NASA New Horizons The Pluto probe is properly steering some new discoveries. “Hubble Discovered Two New Moons Of Pluto That May Help Probe New Horizons” [navigate] the physics of this world a few years ago, ”said Klaus Pontoppidan, Webb project scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. “We believe Webb will be no different in this regard.”
Although launch day is always expected to produce butterflies, Greg Robinson, NASA’s Webb program director, said he was confident the team will pull through to make these scientific discoveries a reality.
“We test as much as possible, as practical as possible. We call it “test as you fly,” he said. “We tested the same functionality based on an introduction. And we’ve done all of that, and I think we’re in pretty good shape. “