Only bad weather can delay the takeoff of the James Webb Space Telescope, which is already prepared for the launch aboard a European Ariane 5 rocket from the Kourou space base, located in French Guiana.
If all goes well, the James Webb will become the great scientific observatory in space, because it will explore regions and epochs in the history of the universe never seen before, such as the first stars, galaxies and black holes. In addition, this space telescope is the first that will be able to analyze the atmosphere of planets that orbit other stars and this could show if they are habitable.
The launch of the largest space telescope in history has already been delayed twice. The first, due to a technical failure and the second due to the arrival of electrical storms, but everything is ready for takeoff at 1:20 p.m. (Spanish time) this Saturday, December 25.
The James Webb space telescope has an observing power one hundred times greater than the famous Hubble space telescope and has been developed by NASA, the European Space Agency and Canada.
This historic space project has cost 9,000 million euros and the James Webb plans to be located one and a half million kilometers from Earth, to be able to observe the universe without interference from the Earth’s atmosphere and in a very stable orbital point.
Thanks to its primary mirror measuring 6.5 meters, James Webb will collect six times more light than Hubble, whose primary mirror is 2.5 meters.
Another important novelty is that while Hubble is moving in a close orbit located about 570 km above the Earth’s surface, James Webb will not actually orbit the Earth, but the Sun, standing at a distance of 1.5 million kilometers from the Earth, specifically at the so-called L2 Earth-Sun Lagrange point.
At that location, the James Webb will feature a tennis-court-sized multi-layer sunshield that will permanently block light from the Sun, Earth and Moon; and will keep the telescope and instrumentation at cryogenic temperatures for proper operation.
Spain, through the Center for Astrobiology (CAB, CSIC-INTA) has an important participation in this mission, being one of the few centers worldwide that participate in two of the four James Webb instruments, NIRSpec and MIRI.
According to Santiago Arribas, a CAB researcher participating in this space mission, “there is a technique that will be used for the first time in a space telescope and that consists of simultaneously obtaining thousands of images of a small region of the sky at slightly different wavelengths. This will allow us to characterize in great detail its physical, chemical and kinematic properties. “
The Spanish companies in the aerospace sector CASA, CRISA and Iberespacio have also participated in the development of important components of this new space telescope, such as the cryogenic cabling system and the cover of the optical system.
As Santiago Arribas concludes, “the James Webb telescope will allow us to study the time when the first luminous objects emerged in the early universe: the first stars, the first galaxies and the first black holes. In addition, it will help us understand how galaxies have evolved from these early times in the history of the universe to the present and, therefore, how the rate of star formation in them has varied, enriching the universe with chemical elements “.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.