NASA launches revolutionary house telescope to offer glimpse of early universe By Reuters
© Reuters. Arianespace’s Ariane 5 rocket with NASA’s James Webb space telescope on board will be rolled out to the launch pad at the European spaceport, the Guiana Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, on December 23, 2021. Image taken on December 23, 2021. NASA / Bill Ingalls
Posted by Steve Gorman
(Reuters) – NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, built to give the world a first look at the universe as it existed when the earliest galaxies formed, was rocket from the northeast coast of South America early Saturday started and opened a new era of astronomy.
Described by NASA as the premier space science observatory of the next decade, the revolutionary $ 9 billion infrared telescope https://graphics.reuters.com/SPACE-EXPLORATION/TELESCOPE/klvyknwbrvg was found in the hold of an Ariane 5. lifted rocket that took off from the European Space Agency (ESA) launch base in French Guiana at around 7:20 a.m. EST (1220 GMT).
The error-free start on Christmas Day with a countdown in French was broadcast live in a joint NASA-ESA webcast. The starting shot crowned a decade-long project that came to fruition after years of repeated delays and cost overruns.
“From a tropical rainforest to the very edge of time, James Webb embarks on a journey back to the birth of the universe,” said a NASA commentator as the two-stage launch vehicle, equipped with twin solid rocket rockets, descended from its launch pad into the cloudy sky.
After a 27-minute hypersonic journey into space, the 14,000-pound instrument was released from the upper stage of the France-built rocket about 865 miles above Earth and should gradually expand to almost the size of a tennis court over the next 13 days, while it sails on alone.
Live video captured by a camera on the missile’s upper stage showed the Webb gently sliding away after being dropped and cheered and applauded from the flight engineers at the mission control center.
Air traffic controllers confirmed that its power supply was working moments later when the Webb’s solar array was deployed.
The Webb telescope will slide through space for two more weeks and reach its destination in solar orbit 1 million miles from Earth – about four times further than the moon. And Webb’s special orbit will keep it in constant alignment with the earth as the planet and telescope orbit the sun at the same time.
By comparison, Webb’s 30-year-old predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, orbits Earth from a distance of 540 miles, moving in and out of the planet’s shadows every 90 minutes.
Named for the man who oversaw NASA for most of its founding decade of the 1960s, Webb is about 100 times more sensitive than Hubble and is set to transform scientists’ understanding of the universe and our place in it.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson struck a spiritual note when he video-linked the webcast to launch, quoting the Bible and hailing the new telescope as a “time machine” that “will capture light from the beginning of creation.”
COSMOLOGICAL HISTORY LESSON
Webb will look at the cosmos primarily in the infrared spectrum and allow it to see through clouds of gas and dust where stars are born, while Hubble has worked primarily at optical and ultraviolet wavelengths.
The main mirror of the new telescope – consisting of 18 hexagonal segments made of gold-coated beryllium metal – also has a much larger light-collecting surface, which allows it to observe objects at greater distances and thus further back in time than Hubble or any other telescope.
Astronomers say this will provide an unprecedented glimpse into the cosmos – dating just 100 million years after the Big Bang, the theoretical flash point that started the expansion of the observable universe an estimated 13.8 billion years ago.
Hubble’s view dated back around 400 million years after the Big Bang, a time shortly after the very first galaxies – sprawling star clusters, gases, and other interstellar matter – took shape.
As Hubble captured glimmers of “toddler” galaxies, Webb will reveal these objects in greater detail while capturing even fainter, earlier “toddler” galaxies, NASA astrophysicist Eric Smith, Webb program scientist, told Reuters hours before launch.
Aside from studying the formation of the earliest stars and galaxies, astronomers are anxious to study supermassive black holes that are believed to occupy the centers of distant galaxies.
Webb’s instruments also make it ideal for searching for evidence of potentially life-sustaining atmospheres around dozen of newly documented exoplanets – celestial bodies orbiting distant stars – and observing worlds much closer to home, such as Mars and Saturn’s icy moon Titan.
The telescope is an international collaboration led by NASA in partnership with the European and Canadian space agencies. Northrop Grumman Corp (NYSE 🙂 was the prime contractor. The Arianespace launcher is part of the European contribution.
“The world gave us this telescope and we gave it back to the world today,” NASA Webb program director Gregory Robinson told reporters at a post-launch briefing.
Webb was developed at a cost of $ 8.8 billion with operating costs expected to add to the total price https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-nasa-telescope/northrop-ceo-grilled-by- us lawmaker-over-space-telescope-idUSKBN1KG2US at about $ 9.66 billion, far higher than planned when NASA was previously aiming for a launch in 2011.
The astronomical operation of the telescope, which is led by the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, is slated to begin in the summer of 2022 after Webb’s mirrors and instruments have been aligned and calibrated for about six months.
At this time, NASA expects the first images captured by Webb to be released. Webb is designed for a service life of up to 10 years.