October 2, 2022

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Today we're sending the largest telescope ever into space: everything you need to know about the James Webb Space Telescope

Today we’re sending the largest telescope ever into space: everything you need to know about the James Webb Space Telescope

Astronomers have waited a long time to launch the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Not only because the departure from our planet has been postponed several times in recent days. The original plan was to have a successor to the Hubble Space Telescope in 2005, but that was estimated with optimism.

The cost also turned out differently than planned. Originally, a half-billion dollar budget was expected. Meanwhile, we are talking about more than 10 billion dollars (more than 8.8 billion euros). Ten thousand people worked on it for about twenty years.

Dee James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).Reuters photo

All that money and work will teach us a lot about the beginning of our universe. This is what scientists will achieve based on the data that the JWST will collect. Unlike its little brother Hubble, which uses light visible to the human eye, the James Webb Telescope uses infrared light.

This allows astronomers to look further into the “past”. JWST will collect light from stars and galaxies up to 13.6 billion light-years away. This means that it took 13.6 billion years to reach the gold-clad space telescope. This gold is microscopically thin, with a total of only three grams for the 6.5-meter mirror.

According to scientists, our universe began about 13.6 billion years ago. So we’ll be able to take pictures of the kids right after the Big Bang. This is how The Verge describes it poetically. We will also be able to better search for planets outside our solar system where life could exist or originate. Just like in 2018, Belgian scientists, among others, discovered planets 40 light years away from us. Life would be possible on this solar system and it has been dubbed TRAPPIST-1.

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Before that can happen, JWST still has to reach one and a half million kilometers of Earth in one piece. This is four times farther than the moon. In addition, the telescope is so large that it folded to fit an Ariane 5 rocket. Unloading takes about two weeks and is done using 344 unique mechanisms. It’s something we haven’t tried before, and because JWST is so far away from us, we can’t send astronauts for repairs.

So it will be exciting, but the launch must be successful first. Today, Merry Christmas, is scheduled between 1.20 and 1.52 pm Belgian time.