James Webb Space Telescope will revolutionize astronomy and seeks to find life beyond Earth
Recently launched in late December 2021
PEORIA (HEART OF ILLINOIS ABC) - The Hubble Telescope revolutionized how we see the universe, but now the James Webb Space Telescope is here to do the same, but on a greater scale.
Renae Kerrigan, the Science Curator and Planetarium Director for the Peoria Riverfront Museum, said, “The James Webb Space Telescope will be able to observe objects that are very distant that are obscured by gas and dust that the Hubble wouldn’t be able to see.”
The telescope took NASA more than two decades to build, and cost up to 10 billion dollars.
Kerrigan said, “It had to be folded all up to fit in the largest rocket available, and then once it got into space, its primary mirror had to unfold. Tt has this huge sunshield that had to unfurl, so it had to have 50 separate deployments to be able to get into its operating shape.”
Last week, the telescope unfurled its sun-shield, a part of the telescope that is roughly the size of a tennis court and is needed to block heat from the sun as well as the earth.
The telescope measures in infrared, meaning light that is not visible to the human eye. It uses ultra-sensitive sensors to measure heat signatures, so the telescope needs to be in a very cold environment.
Kerrigan added, “So it has this sun-shield that is made out of 5 layers of silver-coded film. The temperature difference on the sunny side of the sun-shield, and the instrument side of the telescope is about a thousand degrees from the hot side to the cool side.”
The goal is to study the atmosphere of planets outside our solar system. The stars we see at night each have their own planets, and as curious human-beings we want to study and observe these planets to learn if they could be like Earth.
“The James Webb will be able to directly observe the atmospheres of these extrasolar planets as they transit their stars, and using spectroscopy it may be able to find chemical signatures that would help us understand what that atmosphere is like and if it’s like earth,” said Kerrigan.
Chemical signatures such as carbon, ammonia, and methane, to see if these atmospheres are similar to earth and if they could sustain life.
Because the telescope had a very efficient launch and saved propellent, the lifespan of the telescope has be extended to 20 years instead of the original 10 they had expected.
After the telescope reaches its Lagrange point, its fixed position to orbit around the sun one million miles from Earth, the team will run tests to make sure everything is running properly.
The telescope is set to reach this position and finish the 50 precise steps to unfold within the next 10 days.
They expect to see the first images from the telescope some time this summer.
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