NASA’s Webb Telescope will take everyone beyond where Cosmos left off. The telescope is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope which has been on its mission since 1990. Hubble provides a unique vision of the universe from its orbiting position around the Earth. Hubble’s discoveries have been instrumental in helping determine the existence of dark energy, identifying quasars and determining the age of our universe.
While the Hubble travels in a close orbit above earth, the Webb is being launched and will orbit around what is known as the second Lagrange (L2) point. The L2 will be 93,000,000 miles away from Earth, or the same distance from the Earth to the Sun. While the Cosmos television series has taken us close to the beginning, NASA’s Webb telescope will take us beyond that point and to the very instant the universe began.
The Hubble will continue its mission of studying the universe at optical and ultraviolet wavelengths while the Webb is scheduled to launch aboard an Ariane 5 launch vehicle, which is one of the most reliable vehicles capable of transporting the telescope. Once it reaches the L2, the Webb will look at longer light wavelengths. These wavelengths tend to be highly red-shifted and thus must be studied via an infrared telescope. While the Hubble mirror is 43.5 feet long and 14 feet wide, the Webb’s mirror is about 69.5 feet long and 46.5 feet in diameter or approximately five times larger. The bigger mirror will allow Webb to peer back farther into the beginning of time, and the start of the universe.
The Webb’s mission is to study every chapter of the history of the universe, from the first light particles of the Big Bang and the structure of the universe to the birth and formation of stars. The Webb will look at the forming of solar systems capable of sustaining life to the evolution of the solar system and the origin and evolution of planetary systems. The Webb Telescope will be taking us beyond the first instance of the universe’s existence, focusing on the first month of the Cosmic Calendar from the Cosmos series with Neil deGrasse Tyson, and beginning to create the Cosmic Calendar that precedes it.
The Webb Telescope mission is a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency with Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland managing the development effort. As part of the Webb development, there have been numerous innovative technologies developed. There is a folding, segmented primary mirror consisting of 18 hexagonal elements that folds to fit into the launch vehicle, which once deployed expands to 21 feet. There are ultra-lightweight beryllium optics on its mirrors; Beryllium is one of the lightest metals, at two-thirds the density of aluminum. There is also a cryo-cooler for cooling the mid-Infrareddetectors to 7,000 degrees, and a sun shield, which will passively cool the mirror to 45,000 degrees.
The Webb will carry four cameras or imagers focusing on infrared ranges of light in the electromagnetic spectrum. These instruments include the Fine Guidance Sensor/Near Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph. The Near-Infrared Spectrograph, a 200-kg spectrometer, will observe simultaneously up to 100 celestial bodies. The Near Infrared Spectrograph, the Mid-Infrared Instrument and the Near Infrared Camera will all allow the Webb to be responsive to light from 0.6 to 28 micrometers (one millionth of a meter) in wavelength, with the Webb catching glimpses of early star formation with the Near Infrared Camera.
If the current schedule continues successfully, all instruments will be tested, and all components installed, sealed and prepared for final lift-off very soon. The total cost to build the Webb Telescope is $8.8 billion which was nine times its original estimate. NASA’s Webb Telescope is scheduled for a 2018 launch date, and due to surprisingly few delays, should just make that date, allowing all the universe’s inhabitants to travel beyond where Cosmos‘ ship of the imagination traveled, back in time to the beginning, to the Big Bang.
NASA’s Webb Telescope will take everyone beyond where Cosmos left off.
By Brendie Kelly