Monday, September 16, 2019

James Webb Space Telescope Fully Assembled

Article Written By: Jensen Lawrence

 

Image Credit: NASA

One of humanity’s most valuable resources for exploring the universe is space-based telescopes. Perhaps the most famous of these telescopes is Hubble, which has had an impressive 29-year career. With time comes age, however, and there now exist improved pieces of technology that compete with Hubble. As a result, plans for the James Webb Space Telescope, a next-generation space observatory, were created. Originally it had a planned launch date of 2011, however, billions of dollars over funding and eight years later, JWST still has not launched. This date is now firmly on the horizon because for the first time, its two halves were joined together by NASA engineers.

JWST is composed of two main parts: the telescope itself, the iconic golden mirror made of 18 hexagons, and the spacecraft itself, equipped with a sunshield to protect the telescope’s scientific instruments from harmful solar radiation. Until now, these two parts have been separated. Each piece has undergone several brutal tests, designed to simulate both the ascent to space on a rocket and placement in space. However, they have not yet been tested together; now, this is possible.

This assembly is a major milestone in the project’s history. The telescope has survived cancellation attempts and waves of criticism after successive launch dates have not been met. Thankfully, this indicates that the end is near, with a current projected launch date of March 30, 2021.

JWST will play a crucial role in observational astrophysics for the coming decades of the 21st century. As the successor to Hubble, it will provide us with an even better ability to observe the universe. Compared to the Hubble, it has significantly increased resolution and sensitivity, allowing for never-before-seen images of the cosmos to be captured. Observing primarily in the infrared spectrum the James Webb Space Telescope will allow scientists around the world to explore some of the most fundamental mysteries in astronomy and cosmology. It will be able to see farther back into the history of the universe than ever before, perhaps even observing the first galaxies to have ever formed.

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