The dreamiest Christmas present for astronomers: the most powerful space telescope ever launched

The dreamiest Christmas present for astronomers: the most powerful space telescope ever launched

For astronomers around the world, it would be the perfect Christmas gift: the much-anticipated Christmas Day launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), even more ambitious than its legendary predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). Belgium plays a significant role in the preparation.

The American-European-Canadian spectator was supposed to have been in space since 2007. But due to technical setbacks, not the least of which were budget overruns – by about ten billion dollars the original budget was exceeded three times – there were many delays. Even at the European launch site Kourou in French Guiana, there have been delays in recent days due to technical and weather problems. The launch with Europe’s powerful Ariane-5 launcher is now scheduled for Saturday 13:20 GMT, with the 32-minute launch window open.

Named after the second president of the US space agency NASA, development of the James Webb Telescope began in 1989. The satellite weighs 6.2 tons and is 10.66 meters high and 4.7 meters wide and is the largest space telescope ever. With a diameter of 6.5 meters, nearly three times the size of HST, the JWST mirror is folded into an Ariane foreground cone. Folding it completely into space—combined with a tennis court-sized sun canopy—will result in plenty of nail biting for many.

The most powerful space telescope ever

In addition, it is the most powerful space telescope ever built. “The telescope is so powerful that if you were a bumblebee 380,000 kilometers from here, you could be seen,” said the cosmologist who founded JWST. The viewer must capture the faint light of the first galaxies and star formation at infrared wavelengths. While Hubble, which was launched in 1990 and is still active, could see up to 500 million years after the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago, the 100 times more sensitive JWST has the underlying ambition of 200 million years after the universe was created, Which turns the telescope into an incredible time machine.

So James Webb should explain what happened in the universe after the Middle Ages and should also play a major role in the exploration of planets outside our solar system, of which nearly five thousand have already been discovered. Some are not too close or too far from their parent star, which makes them viable. JWST may detect particles in its atmosphere that really make life possible. Which can provide the answer to the ultimate question: Are we the only planet Earth or are we not alone in the universe?

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Unlike the planet Hubble, which orbits the Earth, the giant operates from the Lagrangian point 2, which is located 1.5 million kilometers from our planet. There, the spacecraft maintains the same position relative to the Earth and the Sun, making it easier to calibrate the instruments. JWST should reach its monitoring center one month after launch. The astronomers’ passion is evident in the more than a thousand proposals for the first year of observation that the European Space Agency (ESA) has received, according to its own statement.

To realize her lofty ambitions, James Webb has four scientific instruments at her disposal. NIRCam is a near-infrared camera designed to collect light from early galaxies, monitor star formation in the Milky Way and peek at exoplanets. NIRSpec is a spectrometer that performs at the same wavelengths, but can also study the nature of what is observed. The European MIRI, which operates in the mid-infrared, should focus in particular on the exoplanets. On the other hand, the FGS/NIRISS is a Canadian dual instrument, where the FGS must accurately locate the satellite and NIRISS is a spectrometer.

Important Belgian contribution

Belgian scientists have already taken part in the original discussions about JWST, but the small North Sea country plays an even bigger role. The Center Spatial de Liège (CSL) tested the NIRSpec. Together with Thales Alenia Space in Charleroi and OIPSensor Systems in Oudenaarde, it has built the instrument control electronics box and optical system for MIRI. CSL will also study the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system discovered by Michael Gillon, which is said to contain habitable exoplanets.

KU Leuven, along with CSL and OIPSensor Systems, have built components for MIRI. Together with the University of Ghent, Leuven also worked on the software, characterization and calibration of the spectrometer. KU Leuven MIRI tested extensively during the entire development phase. In addition, researchers from KU Leuven and UGent were allotted observation time.

The planned life of the JWST is five to seven years, but the European Space Agency, which has invested 700 million euros, hopes the space telescope will last 15 to 20 years.

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The American-European-Canadian spectator was supposed to have been in space since 2007. But due to technical setbacks, not the least of which were budget overruns – by about ten billion dollars the original budget was exceeded three times – there were many delays. Even at the European launch site Kourou in French Guiana, there have been delays in recent days due to technical and weather problems. The launch with Europe’s powerful Ariane-5 launcher is now scheduled for Saturday 13:20 GMT, with the 32-minute launch window open. Named after the second president of the US space agency NASA, development of the James Webb Telescope began in 1989. The satellite weighs 6.2 tons and is 10.66 meters high and 4.7 meters wide and is the largest space telescope ever. With a diameter of 6.5 meters, nearly three times the size of HST, the JWST mirror is folded into an Ariane foreground cone. Folding it completely into space—combined with a tennis court-sized sun canopy—will result in plenty of nail biting for many. In addition, it is the most powerful space telescope ever built. “The telescope is so powerful that if you were a bumblebee 380,000 kilometers from here, you could be seen,” said the cosmologist who founded JWST. The viewer must capture the faint light of the first galaxies and star formation at infrared wavelengths. While Hubble, which was launched in 1990 and is still active, could see up to 500 million years after the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago, the 100 times more sensitive JWST has the underlying ambition of 200 million years after the universe was created, Which turns the telescope into an incredible time machine. So James Webb should explain what happened in the universe after the Middle Ages and should also play a major role in the exploration of planets outside our solar system, of which nearly five thousand have already been discovered. Some are not too close or too far from their parent star, which makes them viable. JWST may detect particles in its atmosphere that really make life possible. Which can provide the answer to the ultimate question: Are we the only planet Earth or are we not alone in the universe? Unlike the planet Hubble, which orbits the Earth, the giant operates from the Lagrangian point 2, which is located 1.5 million kilometers from our planet. There, the spacecraft maintains the same position relative to the Earth and the Sun, making it easier to calibrate the instruments. JWST should reach its monitoring center one month after launch. The astronomers’ passion is evident in the more than a thousand proposals for the first year of observation that the European Space Agency (ESA) has received, according to its own statement. To realize her lofty ambitions, James Webb has four scientific instruments at her disposal. NIRCam is a near-infrared camera designed to collect light from early galaxies, monitor star formation in the Milky Way and peek at exoplanets. NIRSpec is a spectrometer that performs at the same wavelengths, but can also study the nature of what is observed. The European MIRI, which operates in the mid-infrared, should focus in particular on the exoplanets. On the other hand, the FGS/NIRISS is a Canadian dual instrument, where the FGS must accurately locate the satellite and NIRISS is a spectrometer. Belgian scientists have already taken part in the original discussions about JWST, but the small North Sea country plays an even bigger role. The Center Spatial de Liège (CSL) tested the NIRSpec. Together with Thales Alenia Space in Charleroi and OIPSensor Systems in Oudenaarde, it has built the instrument control electronics box and optical system for MIRI. CSL will also study the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system, discovered by Michaël Gillon, which is said to contain habitable exoplanets. KU Leuven, along with CSL and OIPSensor Systems, have also built components for MIRI. Together with the University of Ghent, Leuven also worked on the software, characterization and calibration of the spectrometer. KU Leuven MIRI tested extensively during the entire development phase. In addition, researchers from KU Leuven and UGent were allotted observation time. The planned life of the JWST is five to seven years, but the European Space Agency, which has invested 700 million euros, hopes the space telescope will last 15 to 20 years.

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