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Journey and Science of the Largest and Most Powerful Space Telescope Ever Built

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Journey and Science of the Largest and Most Powerful Space Telescope Ever Built


Student , ME, MVSIT

The James Webb space telescope odyssey started last month, when it departed from California on board the Colibri ship, crossed the Panama Canal, and arrived at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana for its launch this Christmas. But being thrown like a stone by a rocket into space won’t be the hardest part. Every single step needs to proceed to perfection for the telescope to reach its final operational structure.

About a month after its launch, it will reach its orbit at a point called Lagrange 2, which is located in the line Sun-Earth-Moon. This place was chosen to protect the instruments, which need to stay in a very cold environment.

“For Webb in particular this is an attractive location because it is very stable and the telescope can stay at a relatively constant temperature. In L2 (Lagrange 2) it will always be shielded by the Earth from the Sun,” said Sarah Kendrew, one of the ESA-Webb scientists at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

Due to its enormous size (only its main golden mirror being six and a half meters high), the Webb telescope will be launched origami folded. After crossing our moon’s orbit, like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon, it will delicately unfold itself until its protective shield and honeycomb mirror are fully deployed.
Webb is so sensitive that it is capable of detecting the heat of a bee on the Moon,” said 2006 Nobel Laureate in Physics John C. Mather, and lead scientist of the project.

Because with the infrared light we can observe essentially the heat emanating from any object, such technology enables us to look into hidden, dark places like behind dense clouds of dust—precisely the regions where the stars are forming.

Another reason to use the infrared range is that the light coming from the early universe reaches us red-shifted due to the expansion of the fabric of space-time. Webb’s instruments will be able to catch that red-shifted light from the faintest, most distant, and fast-moving objects.

“The radiation coming from light interacting with hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe, is visible and ultraviolet, but it reaches us red shifted due to the expansion of the universe. For these reasons Hubble is unable to see that light from the early universe, but Webb will have that power,” Marcio Meléndez explained.

Another advantage is that elements and molecules of life form unique patterns when interacting with infrared light. Therefore, with Webb, researchers will be able to look for that kind of chemistry, for example, in stellar clouds or the atmospheres of exoplanets.

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