Telescope Liftoff!

NORTHRUP GRUMMAN/ESA/HUBBLE

JOURNEY INTO SPACE: The James Webb Space Telescope will orbit the Sun, 1 million miles away from Earth. This will allow the telescope to stay in line with Earth as it moves.

1. HEAT SHIELD: A sunshield will keep the telescope’s equipment at a frigid -400ºF, while the sun-facing side heats to more than 250ºF.

2. PRIMARY MIRROR: The 18 hexagonal mirror segments are made of the metal beryllium (Be) and coated with gold (Au).

After 25 years of hard work by NASA astronomers and engineers, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is finally scheduled for launch this December. At more than three stories tall, it will be the largest telescope ever sent into space. Because of its enormous size, the telescope will be folded during its launch and then gradually unfold itself once in space.

The JWST is an optical telescope. It collects and focuses light from distant objects to create images that can be studied by scientists back on Earth. The new telescope will mainly observe infrared light, detectable as heat but invisible to the human eye. Engineers also equipped the telescope with a sunshield, which will protect its sensors from the sun’s rays.

Michael Menzel, the JWST’s lead mission systems engineer, hopes the telescope will glimpse light from objects that formed at the start of our universe—13.8 billion years ago!

Read more about the JWST in “Portal to the Universe,” Science World September 17, 2018.

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