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Things You Should Know About the James Webb Space Telescope

Having been anticipated for decades, the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, the most powerful space observatory ever built, is now tentatively scheduled to take place on Christmas Day.

A technological marvel, it will contribute to the resolution of fundamental questions about the Universe by peering back 13 billion years in time to the beginning of time. Listed below are five things to keep in mind.

Giant gold mirror

The primary mirror of the telescope is enormous, measuring 21.5 feet (6.5 meters) in diameter and composed of 18 smaller hexagonal mirrors. The primary mirror of the telescope is the largest in the world. They are made of beryllium that has been coated in gold, and they are designed to reflect infrared light from the far reaches of the universe.

There are four scientific instruments at the observatory, which are used for two primary purposes: imaging cosmic objects and spectroscopy, which is the process of breaking down light into its constituent wavelengths in order to study the physical and chemical properties of cosmic matter.

The mirror and instruments are shielded from the sun by a five-layer sunshield. It has a kite-like shape and is intended to be unfolded to the size of a tennis court once fully extended.

Kapton is used for its membranes, which are known for their high heat resistance and stability over a wide temperature range – both of which are critical considering that the sun-facing side of the shield will reach temperatures as high as 230 degrees Fahrenheit (110 degrees Celsius), while the opposite side will reach temperatures as low as -394 degrees Fahrenheit.

Additional features include a "spacecraft bus" that contains the telescope's electrical power, propulsion, communications and navigation subsystems as well as its orientation, heating, and data handling subsystems; Webb weighs approximately the same as a school bus.

Million-mile journey

Approximately a million miles above the surface of the Earth, or approximately four times the distance between our planet and the Moon, will be launched into orbit with the telescope.

Instead of orbiting Earth like Hubble, the world's current most powerful space telescope, Webb will orbit the Sun like a sunspot.

Observed from the Sun's perspective, the planet will continue to be on its night side as long as the Sun remains directly behind Earth. Webb's sunshield will always be there, sandwiched between the mirror and our star.

Approximately one month will elapse between now and reaching the second Lagrange point, also known as L2. While astronauts have been dispatched to the Hubble Space Telescope to repair it, no human has ever traveled to the planned orbit of Webb.

High-tech origami

It is not possible to transport the telescope in its operational configuration inside the nose cone of a rocket due to the size of the instrument. A complicated and difficult task, unfurling is the most difficult NASA has ever attempted in its history.

In about thirty minutes after take-off, the communications antenna and the solar panels that power it will be deployed.

Once that is completed, on the sixth day and after passing the Moon, work begins on the unfolding of the sunshield, which had been folded like an accordion before. Its thin membranes will be guided by a complicated mechanism that includes 400 pulleys and 1,312 feet of cable.

During the second week, the mirror will finally be able to be used. It is necessary to cool and calibrate the instruments after they have been set up in their final configuration, and the mirrors must be adjusted extremely precisely.

Six months after construction is completed, the telescope will be in operation.

Life, the universe, and everything

Webb will carry out two primary scientific missions, each of which will account for more than half of the total time it will spend in orbit. Consider the early stages of cosmic history, which began only a few hundred million years after the Big Bang and continue to the present day.

In addition to studying the formation of the first stars and galaxies, astronomers are also interested in their evolution over time.

The discovery of exoplanets, which are planets that exist outside of our solar system, is the second major goal of the mission. By examining the atmospheres of those worlds, it will also look into the possibility of life on those worlds.

The infrared capability of Webb is the most promising aspect of the system.

Because infrared wavelengths penetrate dust more easily than ultraviolet and visible light, which is the primary light source for Hubble, it is possible to see more clearly into the early universe, which was shrouded in clouds at the time.

In addition, due to a phenomenon known as redshifting, infrared allows scientists to travel further back in time than they could previously. Due to the expansion of the universe, light from farther away objects is stretched toward the infrared end of the spectrum, where it will eventually be detected.

In addition, closer observations of Mars and Europa, Jupiter's icy moon, are planned for our solar system's outer planets and moons.

Decades in the making

Astronomers began debating which telescope should replace Hubble in the 1990s, with construction of the Webb Space Telescope beginning in 2004.

The launch date has been pushed back several times, first to 2007, then to 2018, primarily due to the complexities of the development.

The observatory, which includes instruments from Canada and Europe, is the result of extensive international collaboration and is the culmination of years of effort.

Over 10,000 people were employed on the project, which eventually grew to have a budget of approximately $10 billion dollars.

It is expected that the mission will last at least five years, if not ten or more years.

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