After a flawless departure, today will be a defining day for the new James Webb Space Telescope. Then he has to reveal the most important part: a meter-sized mirror that receives light from the universe. It is the last step of the first part of the installation of the observatory. The process will start at 15:00 Belgian time at the earliest. In the evening it will probably become clear whether everything is going well.
James Webb is the successor to the famous Hubble Space Telescope. It was developed and built by the European Space Agency (ESA), the United States (NASA), and Canada (CSA).
The telescope was launched from French Guiana on Christmas Day. It is now more than a million kilometers from Earth. It flies towards its destination at a speed of 420 meters per second. It’s still about 400,000 kilometers away. The space telescope will arrive there in about two weeks.
James Webb is the size of a tennis court. When he left, it folded up to fit the rocket that carried him into space. The core of the space telescope is a 6.5-meter mirror, six times the size of the Hubble Telescope. This mirror captures light from space and reflects it onto a second mirror, which collects the light and sends it to the measuring instruments on the panel. Scientists want to use James Webb to search for planets where life might be possible, distant galaxies and traces of the Big Bang. The space telescope can look back billions of years further than Hubble.
The James Webb mirror consists of eighteen hexagons that are connected together, but can move independently of each other. The mirror is made of beryllium, with a small 100-nanometer-thick layer of gold on top. This is a thousand times thinner than a human hair or paper. Beryllium is light, strong and can withstand extreme cold. Gold makes the mirror better able to see infrared light.
When James Webb is at his workplace in a few weeks, he can’t work right away. First, all devices on the plane must be cooled to minus 266 degrees. This takes about a month. After that, it takes a few months to test if everything is working properly. In the summer, James Webb can take the first measurements.
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