The space research community has vibrated in recent days to the pace of advances in the deployment of the James Webb Space Telescope. Let’s go back to the steps that made possible the establishment of the most powerful space observatory of all time, making it possible to observe the first galaxies, formed 200 million years after the Big Bang.
Why this name?
The James Webb Telescope (JWST) is named after NASA’s second administrator (1961-1968). James Edwin Webb was notably instrumental in the success of the program Apollo, allowing men to be sent to the moon for the first time in 1969.
The JWST was imagined in 1989, a year before the launch of the telescope Hubble, and was originally scheduled to leave Earth in 2008. The space telescope was therefore designed to continue the work of the telescope Hubble, which had notably enabled the discovery of a galactic black hole at the center of all galaxies.
Finally, it greatly surpasses its predecessor in the infrared. JWST can also collect an image nine times faster than Hubble. It remains to wait another five and a half months before the machine begins its exploration of the cosmos. Which brings us, roughly speaking, to the summer of 2022.
What has been accomplished so far?
The deployment of the space telescope ended on Saturday with the unfolding of its main mirror, which measures nearly 6.5 meters in diameter. It must have been folded to fit into the rocket when it took off two weeks ago.
The James Webb telescope took off on December 25 with a rocket Ariane 5 to reach its observation post, 1.5 million km from Earth.
Why was each step perilous?
The deployment in space of such a telescope, with its mirrors and its heat shield, was an ultra-perilous and delicate procedure, especially since the experiment had never been carried out before.
And who says extraordinary project, says huge budget: the JWST cost nearly ten billion dollars, that is to say 20 times more than estimated at the beginning. It is mainly funded by NASA, the US space agency, and designed with the help of the European (ESA) and Canadian (CSA) space agencies.
Why did the deployment of the telescope bring joy to the entire aerospace industry?
“I am so moved,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, head of scientific missions at NASA, following the deployment of the revolutionary tool in orbit. If the scientist is also affected, it is because the project had been awaited for thirty years by astronomers around the world.
What remains to be done?
Scientific instruments must still continue to cool in space, before being very precisely calibrated. Teams from the US space agency are also continuing to lock the telescope in order to secure it permanently.
What are the expected results?
The JWST must make it possible to examine the Universe with unparalleled means. The ambition of the project is great. It consists of enlightening humanity on two questions: “Where do we come from? “And” are we alone in the Universe? “.
Thanks to this high-performance telescope, scientists also hear the glimmers of “cosmic dawn”, when the first stars began to illuminate the Universe since the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago.
Ultimately, the telescope should therefore provide us with information on how the first galaxies were formed, on the potential traces of life on an exoplanet, on the role of supermassive black holes and more generally on the origin of life, just that !