The astronomical community is eagerly awaiting the finalized construction of a more than $ 9 billion device that, when installed and ready to use, will be 100% inaccessible to a practical repair crew.
The decision to put so much money into the production of a tool that cannot be easily repaired may seem odd, until its context and purpose are understood.
The long-awaited device is the James Webb Telescope, an instrument that will eventually find a home in space, where it will offer our terrestrial audience a never-before-seen view of the cosmos.
The telescope is named after James Webb (pictured below), a former lawyer, businessman and federal public servant who served as administrator of NASA from 1961 to 1968.
When President John F. Kennedy asked him to lead NASA, Webb at first hesitated and later admitted, “I felt … I wasn’t really the best person for it anyway. It seemed to me that someone who knew more about rockets, about space, would be a better person. “
Despite his doubt, Webb made history as, according to NASA, someone who “many think … has done more for science than maybe any other government official. ”
The telescope created after its namesake is the successor to the famous Hubble Space Telescope, which currently orbit about 340 miles above Earth.
Much more powerful than its predecessor, the James Webb telescope will be sent to a relatively remote location, 1 million kilometers from Earth, where it will capture images from space that should surpass our most popular images of the universe, many of which were provided by Hubble.
According to National Public Radio (NPR), Webb will be able to capture light that has traveled through most of the history of the universe thanks to his design, which allows him to see near and mid infrared light that is invisible to the human eye.
This is a marked difference between Webb and Hubble, as the latter instruction primarily captures the type of optical light we can see.
Webb’s huge mirror is divided into segments, so that he and a tennis court-sized five-layer sunshade can fold inside a rocket and later deploy.
Technicians see the main mirror of the James Webb Space Telescope, and a thin layer of gold on its mirror segments enhances the reflection of infrared light.
The telescope’s expensive design allows it to see older, cooler objects and see through dust.
Hubble’s images, on the other hand, often include dust that distorts stars and other objects. While this distortion may have an artistic effect on Hubble’s images, it also makes it difficult to analyze certain objects for scientists who use these images as a basis for study.
NPR cites Cornell University astronomer Nikole Lewis in this regard.
Lewis said: “A lot of these iconic Hubble images are due to dust scattering light all over the place, which is beautiful. But it’s very difficult to study what’s inside.”
Created and launched into space in 1990, the Hubble has become the gold standard for space imagery, but Webb’s images are expected to shed new light on our universe and lead to a better understanding of the field beyond the borders of the Earth.
NPR reports that James Webb’s team is silent on which images it plans to release first, saying only that the images “are meant to be breathtakingly beautiful, powerful, both visually and scientifically.”
Webb’s launch in space is slated for December 18, and if all goes according to plan, the first images should arrive by next summer.