The James Webb Space Telescope is One of the most anticipated space projects in recent years. Scientists around the world have high hopes for complex space observation equipment, but NASA’s telescope has had no luck in the past. Its beginning has been postponed several times. However, during the Christmas season, the device was finally launched into space.
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The hardest part is waiting for us
The Webb telescope flew into space. At the NASA Center you could hear the depths: Ugh !! But this is just the beginning. About the current state of the telescope, its near and distant future and what hopes can be linked to the project Stanisław Rokita, astronomer at the Toro Space Center, explains in an interview with us.
– On December 25, 2021, after only 10 years of delay, the James Webb Space Telescope launched its flight – Stanislaw Rukita recalls that it is not without a snack. Launching or returning from space is generally the most difficult and dangerous component of the mission, but in the case of JWST, according to astronomer and journalist Eric Berger, a successful launch is only 10%. Good luck with your task. In the coming days and months, the telescope will face many challenges before it is scientifically prepared, which will happen in about 6 months.
JWST is often referred to as the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) According to the expert, this is not an appropriate term.
– These are completely different telescopes: different in technology, different in how they work and work in a different place – lists Rokita. – It is true that he is in space, outside the Earth, but in completely different places. HST worked and continued to operate (hopefully for as long as possible) in Earth orbit, and if necessary, it was possible to organize a repair mission and then a service. In the case of JWST, this would not be possible. Webb will orbit Lagrange’s L2 point about 1.5 million kilometers from Earth when viewed from the Sun. If something happens, he will not be able to help “physically”. The journey to the same destination will take 30 days, during which time the telescope must prepare for work (some elements have already been made).
basic differences? The Hubble Telescope operates in the visible, ultraviolet, and near-infrared range. JWST Instead, it will be observed in the infrared. This range of the spectrum indicates how it works, it is necessary to protect the mirror and the scientific apparatus from solar radiation with a special sail.
More fuel in the tank
– JWST has already made two course corrections to achieve the set goal – confirms Rokita. – During take-off, Webb was not deliberately accelerated to the required maximum speed so as not to “miss”. Excessive speed means pointing the telescope at the sun (optical and scientific side) and braking, which could damage very sensitive scientific equipment. Adjustments were made on December 26 and 28 (Polish time). The last one was planned before reaching L2.
According to our interlocutor, the price correction They have succeeded enough to provide fuel for the future. This will allow JWST to run longer. Initially, the telescope was planned to operate for 5 years, with a high probability of extending it to 10 years. Fuel savings will allow this period to be extended even further. Fuel is needed to reach the destination point, to enter orbit around L2, and then to maintain its orientation in space.
What are the last days of the life of the young cosmic network? Shortly after takeoff The solar panels are positioned correctly to provide the energy needed to operate the device.
“The high-gain directional antenna was released on December 26,” Rokita explained. – Thanks to it, it will be possible to download large amounts of scientific data from the telescope. The expedition team also checked the movement of the antenna. Temperature sensors and extensometers have also been launched, which will check the efficiency of detecting structures on the telescope.
On December 29, the tower that separates the optical part of the telescope with instruments from the platform with the lid was opened at a height of about two meters. It is necessary to make this distance between the telescope and the platform Obtaining the necessary thermal insulation and making room for a canopy that can be folded later.
– So far everything is going according to plan, but this is just the beginning – confirms the expert. Later this year, the solar awnings that protect the telescope during takeoff will open, after which the process of opening the special sunshades necessary for the proper functioning of the 14 x 20 meter telescope will begin in the future. To better protect the telescope and heat dissipation, it is not a single cover, but consists of 5 separate layers.
In the second week of travel Opening the telescope itself – the wings of the main mirror and the supporting structure of the secondary mirror will begin. Webb’s mirror is 6.5 meters in diameter and consists of 18 elements. At the time of launch, the mirror was folded to take up as little space as possible, now you have to put all 18 items in their place.
Our hub explains that about a month after launch, JWST will perform its last correction maneuver, hitting the target’s orbit. Then begins the stage of preparing the telescope’s optics.
– The telescope must be cooled behind the sun visor (JWST operates at minus 230 ° C), so that it is possible to activate a temperature-sensitive camera to help calibrate – explains Rocetta. – After a few weeks of cooling, the individual parts of the main mirror are modified so that it starts working like a large mirror. Engineers estimate that the alignment of the clips will be completed approximately 4 months after launch.
The astronomer announced that we will then have another final step in preparing the telescope for work – the calibration of scientific instruments. Specific space targets will be monitored over the next few weeks. different calibrations It will take about a year, but 6 months after the start of JWST, you should start making your first scientific observations.
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We will look further into the past
According to the researcher we are talking about, it is difficult to say what scientific benefits we will get from JWST to the start of the work. as It is impossible to say whether these will be innovative discoveries. However, we can look at the individual areas that the telescope is dealing with and what kind of information we can expect to get from it.
JWST will allow us to look further into the past than with today’s telescopes. The observation interval will allow us to look at the time of about 100 million after the Big Bang, at the time of the formation of the first stars and galaxies.
“The oldest known galaxy is 13.3 billion light-years away and formed about 420 million years after the Big Bang,” says Rocetta. – JWST will significantly change the observation limit (by 300 million years). It can also be useful in determining the Hubble constant, which describes the evolution of the universe. The first observations of the stars will surely revolutionize observable cosmology and our understanding of the origins of the universe.
One of the most important questions in astronomy is how this diverse group of observable galaxies appeared. Thanks to infrared observations of distant galaxies, JWST will provide a better understanding of the processes of galactic-scale star formation and the evolution of the rate of star formation in space. Can answer the following questions: How did galaxies form, how did they change over time, what is the chemical distribution of matter in galaxies, and how did collisions affect the evolution of galaxies?
The birth of stars and planets
Observations of the surrounding star-forming regions and dust disks will provide a better understanding of the star-forming processes and, consequently, of the processes that led to the birth of the Sun and Earth.
“Maybe we’ll get an answer to the question of how rocky planets like Earth form,” says Rokita. Understanding the conditions in which planets like ours are formed can give us information about how life in space was born.
Planets outside the solar system
JWST will allow you to take a closer look at the exoplanets and their conditions. – It will make it possible to study the chemical composition of the atmosphere or even observe the weather on it – predicts Rokita. Perhaps we will discover how rocky planets, frozen planets, or gas giants form and evolve. Is our planetary system typical of space or unique and unique?
The telescope will look not only at the exoplanets and the possible conditions for the existence of life, but also around us immediately: the moons of Saturn and Jupiter.
– Infrared observations will make it possible to search for satellites under the frozen crust and determine the ocean conditions of these objects (and these are areas where they are suspected to be alive) – Rokita sums up.