NASA continues to change the science landscape as it prepares to launch another massive project, the James Webb Space Telescope or JWST which is a revolutionary US$9 billion instrument that has the capability of seeing through the cosmos.
The launch is due for early Saturday from South America’s northeastern coast and the launch is expected to open a new era of astronomical exploration.
JWST is equipped with a powerful infrared telescope built to continue observations about the solar system and other farther star systems within the galaxy and outside of it.
The space telescope will be shipped into space via the Ariane 5 rocket scheduled for take-off at 7:20 am EST (12:20 GMT) from European Space Agency’s (ESA) launch base in French Guiana.
Hopefully, if everything goes according to plan, we expect the 14,000-pound space instrument to be released from the rocket after a 26-minutes ride into space.
After which it would take over a month before JWST coast to its destination in solar orbit – about 1 million miles from earth or four times the distance between Earth and the Moon.
Also, Webb’s special orbital path will keep it in constant alignment with Earth as the planet and telescope circle the sun in tandem.
By comparison, Webb’s 30-year-old predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, orbits Earth itself from 340 miles away, passing in and out of the planet’s shadow every 90 minutes.
JWST is named after the man who oversaw NASA during its infancy back in the 60s.
The space telescope will be much more sensitive compared to the Hubble space telescope and it’s expected to transform scientists’ understanding of the universe as well as the place of our planet and the solar system in it.
JWST will make use of infrared spectrum that will allow it to peer through clouds of gas and dust where stars often form.
Compared to the Hubble space telescope which operated primarily at optical and ultraviolet wavelengths.
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The new space telescope has about 18 hexagonal segments of gold-coated beryllium metal as well as a bigger light-collection area that allows it to observe objects from a really far distance.
That, astronomers say, will bring into view a glimpse of the cosmos never previously seen – dating to just 100 million years after the Big Bang, the theoretical flashpoint that set in motion the expansion of the observable universe an estimated 13.8 billion years ago.
Unlike Hubble’s space telescope which is about 400 million years after the Big Bang, JWST will be able to re-examine with a much better clarity thanks to its equipment.
Other mysterious things astronomers are curious about include super-massive black holes which are thought to occupy the centers of distant galaxies.
The Webb’s instrument is also expected to make it ideal to search for potentially life-supporting atmospheres around the numerous documented exoplanets – planets that orbit distant stars.
NASA isn’t the only organization that worked on the JWST as it’s an international collaboration even though it was led by the latter.
Other contributors include the ESA and Canadian Space Agencies. Northrop Grumman Corp was the primary contractor. The Arianespace launch vehicle is part of the European contribution.
The development of JWST was estimated to cost about US$9.66 billion in total which was a much higher cost compared to the initial.
Astronomical operation of the telescope, to be managed from the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, is expected to begin in the summer of 2022, following about six months of alignment and calibration of Webb’s mirrors and instruments.
Afterward, NASA is expected to release the initial batch of images captured by JWST.
As of now, scientists are keeping quiet about where to precisely point the telescope first even though the space telescope is expected to last for about 10 years in space.