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The James Webb Space Telescope, Hubble's Successor, Arrives at Work |  abroad

The James Webb Space Telescope, Hubble’s Successor, Arrives at Work | abroad

As the new telescope zooms through space on Monday, flight control on Earth wants the engines to run around 8 p.m. Dutch time. This should alter the trajectory of the probe. In this way they can be “stooped” in a stable place in the Earth’s shadow. It uses as little energy as possible there, has an unobstructed view of the universe and can easily send pictures and measurements.

James Webb is the successor to the famous Hubble Space Telescope. It dates back to 1990 and has been in orbit around the Earth for nearly 32 years. Its end is near. This is why Europe, the United States and Canada have joined forces for the new investigation. From the Netherlands, Leiden University and research institute TNO are involved in the project, among others.

The new space telescope the size of a tennis court. The core is a 6.5-meter mirror, six times the size of Hubble. I flipped that mirror two weeks ago. It picks up light from space and reflects it onto a second mirror, which collects the light and sends it to the measuring instruments on the panel. The main mirror consists of eighteen hexagons that sit together, but each can move independently of the other for focus. The mirror is made of beryllium, with a small 100-nanometer-thick layer of gold on top. This is a thousand times thinner than a human hair or paper. Beryllium is light, strong and can withstand extreme cold. Gold makes the mirror better able to see infrared light.

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Among other things, James Webb has to search for planets where life might be possible, distant galaxies and traces of the Big Bang. It can be seen in time past a billion years further than Hubble. Since James Webb is so far away, he is not bothered by the heat of the sun. At his workplace, the temperature is minus 233 degrees. This makes the measurements more accurate and reliable. The total project cost will be around 8 billion euros.

When James Webb is at his final destination, it can’t be started right away. One of the measuring instruments on the board must be cooled to minus 266 degrees. This takes about a month. After that, it takes a few months to test if everything is working properly. James Webb will probably be able to take the first measurements in the summer.