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The James Webb Telescope

October 18, 2021 | Space

The James Webb Space Telescope (or JWST) will be the largest, most powerful, and complex space telescope ever built and launched into space. It will fundamentally change our understanding of the universe. The JWST, or Webb, is an orbiting infrared observatory that will complement and extend the discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope (launched 1990), with longer wavelength coverage and greatly improved sensitivity. The longer wavelengths enable Webb to look much closer to the beginning of time and to hunt for the unobserved formation of the first galaxies, as well as to look inside dust clouds where stars and planetary systems are forming today. Webb will travel over a month to reach its chosen observation point and will not be in orbit around the earth like the Hubble is, it will actually orbit around the sun, 1.5 million kilometers (1 million miles) away from the Earth.

JWST’s primary mirror segment is the world’s largest mirror and was also one of the most difficult and complex challenges. NASA stated that it had to create and perfect 10 new technologies just to make it work. The mirror consists of 18 gold-plated panels of beryllium, this allowed for them to be both strong and lightweight. The reason the mirror is segmented and not one piece, like Hubble’s’, is because it is seven times larger: The hexagonal segments allow it to fold up and fit into the tight space of a fairing on top of a rocket. In space, the segments will unfold and work together as one big mirror, helping focus normally invisible infrared light from the universe toward a suite of electronics.

NASA’s tennis-court-sized successor to the Hubble hasn’t been easy to build or cheap. Originally estimated to cost $5 billion and launch mid-2014, it currently has been 25 years in the making, and has cost more than a staggering $10 billion. Last week Webb made a 5,800-mile voyage from California to its launch site in Kourou in French Guiana on the northeast coast of South America. NASA, ESA (European Space Agency), and the CSA (Canadian Space Agency) just recently announced their target launch date for December 18 this year. If conditions are right, lift-off could take place between 8:45 a.m. and 11 a.m. local time (7:45 a.m. and 10 a.m. EST.) This colossal technological and scientific achievement will truly be an exciting moment in history. Don’t miss the launch!

Get all the latest updates on their home page or follow them on Twitter @NASAWebb.


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