NASA launches revolutionary space telescope to provide glimpse into the early universe


December 25 (Reuters) – NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, built to give the world its first glimpse of the universe as it existed when the first galaxies formed, was rocket launched early Saturday from the coast northeastern South America, ushering in a new era of astronomy.

The revolutionary $ 9 billion infrared telescope, described by NASA as the first space science observatory of the next decade, was blown into the air inside the cargo bay of an Ariane 5 rocket that took off towards 7:20 a.m. EST (12:20 p.m. GMT) from the European Space Agency (ESA) Launch Base in French Guiana.

The flawless Christmas Day launch, with a countdown in French, was broadcast live on a joint NASA-ESA webcast. The take-off capped a project that had been going on for decades, coming to fruition after years of repeated delays and cost overruns.

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“From a tropical rainforest on the edge of time itself, James Webb begins a journey back to the birth of the universe,” a NASA commentator said as the two-stage launcher, fitted with twin thrusters powder, roared from its launch pad in a cloudy sky.

After a 27-minute hypersonic journey into space, the 14,000-pound instrument was released from the top stage of the French-built rocket about 865 miles above Earth, and is expected to gradually deploy to ‘to almost the size of a tennis court over the next 13 days as he cruises alone.

Live video captured by a camera mounted on the rocket’s top stage showed the Webb sliding smoothly after being dropped, eliciting cheers and applause from the jubilant flight engineers in the mission control center.

Flight controllers confirmed moments later, as Webb’s solar power array was deployed, that its power supply was on.

Navigating space for another two weeks, the Webb Telescope will reach its destination in solar orbit 1 million kilometers from Earth, about four times as far as the Moon. And Webb’s special orbital path will keep him in constant alignment with Earth as the planet and telescope revolve around the sun in tandem.

By comparison, Webb’s 30-year-old predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, orbits the Earth at a distance of 340 miles, passing through the planet’s shadow every 90 minutes.

Named after the man who oversaw NASA for most of its training decade in the 1960s, Webb is roughly 100 times more sensitive than Hubble and is expected to transform scientists’ understanding of the universe and our place in it. this one.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, striking a witty tone as he addressed the video-link launch webcast, cited the Bible and hailed the new telescope as a “time machine” that ” will capture the light from the very beginning of creation “.


Arianespace’s Ariane 5 rocket, with NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope on board, is launched from the European Spaceport, the Guyanese Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana, on December 25, 2021 in a still image of a video. NASA / NASA TV / Document via REUTERS

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Webb will primarily see the cosmos in the infrared spectrum, allowing him to peer into the gas and dust clouds where stars are born, while Hubble has operated primarily at optical and ultraviolet wavelengths.

The main mirror of the new telescope – made up of 18 hexagonal segments of gold-coated beryllium metal – also has a much larger light collecting area, allowing it to observe objects at greater distances, thus further in the field. time, as Hubble or any other telescope.

According to astronomers, this will provide a glimpse into the cosmos never seen before – dating only 100 million years after the Big Bang, the theoretical flashpoint that triggered the expansion of the observable universe about 13 years ago, 8 billion years.

Hubble’s vision dates back to about 400 million years after the Big Bang, a period just after the very first galaxies – sprawling clusters of stars, gas, and other interstellar material – took shape.

While Hubble has caught glimmers of “toddler” galaxies, Webb will reveal these objects in more detail while also capturing even weaker and older “infant” galaxies, astrophysicist Eric Smith, a scientist at the Reuters, told Reuters. NASA’s Webb program, hours before launch.

In addition to examining the formation of the first stars and galaxies, astronomers are eager to study the super-massive black holes believed to occupy the centers of distant galaxies.

Webb’s instruments also make it ideal for searching for evidence of potentially vital atmospheres around dozens of newly documented exoplanets – celestial bodies orbiting distant stars – and for observing worlds much closer to home, such as Mars and Saturn’s icy Titan moon.

The telescope is an international collaboration led by NASA in partnership with European and Canadian space agencies. Northrop Grumman Corp (NOC.N) was the prime contractor. The Arianespace launcher is part of the European contribution.

“The world gave us this telescope, and we gave it back to the world today,” Gregory Robinson, director of the Webb program for NASA, told reporters in a post-launch briefing.

Webb was developed at a cost of $ 8.8 billion, with operational expenses expected to bring its total price tag to around $ 9.66 billion, far more than expected when NASA was previously aiming for a 2011 launch. Read More

Astronomical operation of the telescope, which will be managed by the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, is expected to begin in the summer of 2022, after about six months of alignment and calibration of Webb’s mirrors and instruments.

That’s when NASA plans to release the first batch of images captured by Webb. Webb is designed to last up to 10 years.

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Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Cynthia Osterman, Barbara Lewis, Hugh Lawson and Nick Zieminski

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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