As the new telescope zooms into space on Monday, flight control on Earth wants to turn on the motors around 8 p.m. Dutch time. This should change the course of the probe. This way it can be “parked” in a stable place in the shade of the ground. It consumes as little energy as possible there, has a clear view of the universe and can easily send images and measurements.
The James Webb is the successor to the famous Hubble Space Telescope. It dates from 1990 and has been orbiting the Earth for almost 32 years. His end is near. That’s why Europe, the United States and Canada have joined forces for the new probe. In the Netherlands, the University of Leiden and the research institute TNO are involved in the project, among others.
The new space telescope is about the size of a tennis court. The core is a 6.5 meter mirror, six times the size of Hubble. This mirror was opened two weeks ago. It captures light from space and reflects it to a second mirror, which gathers the light and sends it to the onboard measuring instruments. The main mirror consists of eighteen hexagons that rest together, but can move independently of each other to focus. The mirror is made of beryllium, covered with a tiny layer of gold 100 nanometers thick. It’s a thousand times thinner than a human hair or a sheet of paper. Beryllium is light, strong and can withstand extreme cold. The gold makes the mirror better able to see infrared light.
Among other things, the James Webb must search for planets where life might be possible, distant galaxies and traces of the Big Bang. It can see a billion years further in time than Hubble. Because the James Webb is so far away, it is not bothered by the hot sun. At his place of work, the temperature is 233 degrees below zero. This makes measurements more accurate and reliable. The project will cost a total of around 8 billion euros.
When the James Webb is at its final destination, it cannot start right away. One of the measuring instruments on board must be cooled to 266 degrees below zero. It takes about a month. After that, it takes a few months to test if everything is working properly. The James Webb will probably be able to take the first steps this summer.
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