Six questions to know about the James Webb space telescope, the largest ever sent into space

The James Webb Space Telescope, launched on December 25 from French Guiana, is the largest and most powerful ever sent into space. A unique device in its characteristics and in its next mission.

What is the James Webb?

It is the next major space observatory for astronomers around the world, designed to build on the scientific successes of the Hubble telescope. The James Webb is a collaboration between the space agencies of the United States (NASA), Europe (ESA) and Canada (CSA).

Why are there so many expectations with this project?

It is the largest telescope ever sent into space and in its design, in addition to a 6.5-meter diameter mirror, the four latest-generation scientific instruments designed to capture the infrared light of the universe, invisible to the human eye, stand out.

Thanks to this unprecedented sensitivity, you will be able to look back in time more than 13,500 million years to see the first galaxies that were born after the Bing Bang – an explosion that is believed to have originated the universe – and their evolution.

In addition, you will be able to observe planets in our solar system and those that orbit other stars (you will study the chemical composition of exoplanets).

It will offer an unprecedented view of the universe with eyes unknown until now, which could rewrite astronomy or part of it.

How is it different from Hubble?

Between the two there are fundamental technological differences.

The most important are its ability to observe the universe in the infrared spectrum, while Hubble is focused on visible light, and the large size of its primary mirror (6.5 meters versus 2.4 meters), which allows it to observe further in distance, which is further back in time.

Another big difference is its solar shield, made up of five layers of kapton and the size of a tennis court, to prevent the sun from hitting it and thus be able to operate at -230 degrees.

Hubble has been operating for 31 years, but James Webb will have a life of about a decade, marked by the use of fuel to correct and maintain its orbit. In addition, being 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, manned missions to repair or update it are not possible.

How far will it travel and how long will it take to get there?

It will be located at a point called Lagrange 2, 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, and it will orbit the Sun. It will arrive at its destination one month after takeoff.

Lagrange points are five positions in space where the gravitational pull of the Sun and Earth balance out, providing stable locations for spacecraft.

In total, the engineers will spend a minimum of six months calibrating and testing the instruments to get the telescope ready to do science.

After the launch a phase begins, which some experts have described as “the most critical part”, why?

It is so large that it cannot fit on any rocket, which is why it has had to be launched folded like an origami figurine and must unfold as it travels to its destination.

The recomposition and tensioning of the enormous solar shield will begin after three days and at twelve the deployment and repositioning of the primary mirror formed by 18 hexagons will begin. These are just some of the delicate phases you will have to go through that no appliance has ever done before.

Any peculiarities of this telescope?

James Webb is the most powerful telescope ever put in space and also the largest. It is eight meters high and the sun shield measures 21.2 by 14.2 meters.

Read also: “It is a gigantic step for humanity”: the ship that for the first time in history “touches” the Sun

The main mirror, made of beryllium, is made up of 18 yellow hexagons and that is because they are covered with a very thin layer of gold, the material that best reflects infrared light, which is what the telescope will observe.

The heat shield that protects James Webb from heat, as well as infrared radiation from the Sun, Earth, and Moon, is like having SPF 1 million sun protection. EFE

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