Two weeks after its set afloat, the James Webb Space Telescope has finally unfolded its dominant mirror as it begins the final step of its deployment. The telescope is the most powerful device of its kind ever launched into space.
The $10-billion telescope unfolded its honeycomb-shaped dominant mirror on Saturday, just over two weeks after its set afloat from the European Space Agency’s set afloat base in French Guiana on Christmas Day. Over the past two weeks, the telescope’s reflective silver sunshield and secondary mirror have both been successfully deployed, with the dominant mirror the last hurdle in the way of getting the telescope operational.
A 3D rendering shared live by NASA showed the mirror opening up, while engineers back on Earth famous.
“I just feel this kind of glow in my chest right now just seeing that mirror deployed all together,” NASA scientist Michelle Thaller said during a live stream by the space agency.
Spanning 6.5 meters (21 feet 4 inches) across and kept at a steady 40 degrees Kelvin (-380°F/-233°C) by the tennis court-sized sunshield, the dominant mirror will pick up infrared light from the depths of outer space. Unlike the Hubble Space Telescope, which it replaces, Webb will examine a spectrum of light invisible to the human eye, with the aim of uncovering signs of the first stars and galaxies formed after the Big Bang.
The telescope will also be able to examine the atmospheric composition of exoplanets, aiding the search for Earth-like planets that may shelter life.
Webb is nevertheless approximately two weeks away from its final destination at the second Sun-Earth Lagrange Point (L2), some 1.5 million kilometers (a million miles) further away from the sun than Earth. Once there, it will orbit the sun for around 10 years.
2021: Milestones in space tech & exploration
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