NASA’s Biggest Telescope Ever Prepares for a 2021 Launch


If you had been a rogue bee buzzing on the moon, this heat-detecting honeycomb might discover you. But relaxation simple, tiny good friend: The $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope may have larger issues. Once it’s blasted into orbit in 2021, it should hunt down water on Earth-like planets, stars being born, and distant objects shaped within the first 100 million years after the Big Bang.


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Webb’s precision comes from its 21.Three-foot main mirror, almost 3 times as massive as Hubble’s. Its folding, hivelike design is shaped by 18 light-weight beryllium hexagons that work as one; to sharpen focus, 126 small motors pivot these segments in increments as small as one ten-thousandth the width of a grain of lily pollen. They gather 269.1 sq. ft of sunshine, 50 instances greater than NASA’s present infrared area telescope, Spitzer. A gold coating enhances the mirror’s reflection of long-wave mild, together with infrared radiation created 13.6 billion years in the past, additional again than any telescope has ever seen. “The telescope is a time machine,” says Nobel laureate and lead scientist John Mather. “You see things as they were when light was sent out.”

Some 10,000 astrophysicists, engineers, and chemists have labored on Webb. Mather’s been at it the longest, since 1996, when NASA left him a voicemail asking whether or not he wished to assist construct its greatest telescope but. He led the crew at NASA’s Goddard facility in Maryland that recognized 10 mandatory applied sciences that did not but exist, together with a tennis-court-sized plastic solar defend that ensures correct infrared detection by chilling the observatory to -370 levels Fahrenheit. (Above, Webb prepares for testing in NASA’s cryogenic vacuum chamber in Houston.) The challenge, initially anticipated to price $500 million and launch in 2007, has confronted challenges (leaks, rips, Congress). But now it is on observe to launch from French Guiana in a European Ariane 5 rocket.

Hovering 1 million miles from Earth, Webb will beam down 458 gigabits of knowledge a day for as much as 10 years, probably revealing the deepest mysteries of the universe’s origins. Mather imagines “there’s something out there we would never have guessed.”

LAURA MALLONEE (@LauraMallonee) writes about images for WIRED.

This article seems within the November situation. Subscribe now.

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