NASA and its international partners are counting down the launch of the most expensive science probe ever built on Christmas Day, aDesigned to capture starlight from the first galaxies born in .
The James Webb Space Telescope, with billions of dollars on budget and years later, is planned to launch from the European Space Agency’s Kourou launch site in French Guiana at 7:20 a.m. EDT atop an Ariane 5 rocket, weather permitting.
Equipped with two solid propellant thrusters, the rocket will propel Webb’s backbone away from the northeastern coast of South America in an eastern trajectory, launching the telescope to fly alone about 27 minutes after liftoff.
The observatory’s single solar panel, still folded to fit an Ariane 5 nose cone, is still needed to recharge the spacecraft’s batteries, about six minutes after separation, the first in a series of important milestones.
Webb would need a month to reach a planned parking spot a million miles from Earth, on the far side of the Moon’s orbit – known as Lagrange Point 2 – where it could orbit the Sun in a gravitational line with Earth, providing the cool and dark environment needed for mission success. .
The telescope has been optimized to take pictures of the first stars and galaxies to begin glowing after the Big Bang, light that has been stretched into the infrared region of the spectrum by the expansion of space itself over the past 13.8 billion years.
This light cannot be seen through the icon.Designed to study the wavelengths of visible light. However, Hubble discovered galaxies dating back half a billion years before the Big Bang.
But Webb should be able to go hundreds of millions of years later, to detect the light that began emitting when the universe was only 200 million years old or older. This is the age when the universe emerged from hydrogen fog at birth and starlight began to travel freely through space.
Near home, Webb will also study the atmospheres of planets orbiting nearby stars to determine their habitability and provide a routine close-up of the planets, moons, asteroids and comets in Earth’s solar system from Mars outward.
But first, the telescope must spread a five-layer sunscreen the size of a tennis court, open its 21.3-foot-wide split primary mirror, and spread its secondary mirror onto a tripod.
who – which, the most complex attempt at a scientific investigation ever, will take place during the first two weeks of the mission.
If all goes well, engineers and astronomers will spend the next five months or so lining up the telescope’s optics and calibrating its four science instruments. The first scientific images are expected within six months.
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