After over two decades of construction, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is finished and ready for in-depth evaluations, NASA announced Wednesday.
Containing 18 hexagonal mirrors that will collect light from the farthest reached of the universe, the largest-ever space telescope is projected to launch within two years.
“Today, we’re celebrating the fact that our telescope is finished, and we’re about to prove that it works,” John Mather, a senior project scientist for the telescope, said at a NASA news conference. “We’ve done two decades of innovation and hard work, and this is the result — we’re opening up a whole new territory of astronomy.”
Using its mirrors and infrared vision technology, researchers will be able to look back over 13.5 billion years to view the first stars and galaxies developing in the early universe. Unrivaled infrared sensitivity will help scientists to contrast the dimmest, earliest galaxies to today’s fantastic spiral and elliptical galaxies, helping us to learn how galaxies grow over billions of years.
Webb will look through cosmic dust clouds to see stars and planetary systems being born. The telescope will also help uncover details around atmospheres of planets outside our solar system, and maybe even locate signs of the fundamentals of life elsewhere in the universe.
Gigantic Upgrade in Telescope Technology
Needles to say, JWST will be a massive upgrade on the Hubble telescope.
“You can see this beautiful, gold telescope is seven times the collecting area of the Hubble telescope,” Mather said.
The new telescope’s infrared capability gives it a particularly big leg up on Hubble. Our planet glows in the infrared spectrum, so seeing into the distant universe in these wavelengths can’t be done from the ground. Hubble gives off heat, which would disrupt measurements.
JWST will run near absolute zero and sit at a location in space known as the Lagrange Point 2, which is directly behind Earth from the sun’s point of view. That way, Earth can block the telescope from the sun’s infrared rays. The JWST also has a sun shield that can protect the telescope from both bodies’ heat.
The telescope’s assessments at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, which has already commenced, will make sure that it can endure the vibrations and loud noise of a rocket launch. Then, it will be transferred to Texas, where its focus will be analyzed, and then to California for some final installations. The evaluations are very high-stakes, because unlike Hubble, which was fixed in orbit by astronauts, this telescope is not supposed to be fixed by humans.
Image credit: NASA
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