Before the huge telescope gets to work, there will be a lot of tense moments. The two weeks immediately after launch will be critical because the telescope opens up in a detailed sequence that NASA engineers described during a recent briefing as an origami exercise.
“This is what we call 14 days of terror – the time it takes to deploy the telescope – but I’m very confident about it,” Doyon said in a recent interview. “We’ve tested and retested this, so there’s good reason to believe everything will be fine.”
The telescope, named after the former NASA administrator who led the Apollo program to explore the moon, is folded compactly for launch, and thousands of parts must function to allow it to appear properly. It will operate at a distance of 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, which is as far from service as possible with Hubble, which was only 500 kilometers away.
The instruments on the Webb telescope can only function properly at very low temperatures – below 233 degrees Celsius – so one component of it is a tennis court-sized sunscreen that will shield them from the sun’s heat and sunlight. Earth and Moon.
Canada’s contribution means that when the telescope is operational – expected in the middle of next year – the country will ensure at least five percent of the telescope’s available observation time. Of the 286 proposals accepted worldwide for the first year of use, 10 will be Canadians as principal investigators.
Many were eagerly awaiting the launch of Webb, which was delayed several times. Webb’s infrared wavelength-width capabilities mean that scientists will be able to see some things for the first time, such as the first stars and galaxies from the early universe after the Big Bang, Doyon said. It would also represent a huge leap in the study of exoplanets – planets outside our solar system – to explore their atmospheres for evidence of early life.
It’s an exciting time, said Sarah Gallagher, a science advisor at the Canadian Space Agency.
“It’s the culmination of decades of work by really talented people, and I am very proud of our Canadian contribution, the scientific and industrial contribution. I think it really shows the strength of our community,” she said in an interview.
“We have people who want to study objects in our solar system, planets around other stars, galaxies in the very early universe and all kinds of different topics.”
Among them will be Loc Albert, who will be able to continue his work on brown dwarfs – basically failed stars. The project involves searching for mates for about 20 of them, and will use Webb’s sensitivity to his advantage.
“In my case, James Webb opens up the possibility of studying some specific types of brown dwarfs, which are much cooler and less dense than brown dwarfs. They are so faint that you can’t see them from Earth,” Albert, a researcher at the University of Montreal and expert on scientific instruments told Webb.
Albert says that scientists who have been studying exoplanets using Hubble’s limited power should reap the rewards of Webb. “For the exoplanet community, it would be a game changer,” he said in an interview. “It will allow the exoplanet atmosphere to be measured for a large number of planets in great detail.”
Doyon, who is planning to fly to French Guiana for the launch next month, said the prospect of unintended discoveries is the most exciting part ahead of Webb’s launch.
“Every time a new telescope is turned on, history shows that after five or 10 years, you ask the question, what is the biggest discovery the telescope has made. It is something that was not planned,” he said. “I am sure Webb will be the same. “
This report was first published by The Canadian Press on November 16, 2021.
Siddhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press
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