NASA achieved an amazing milestone with the James Webb Telescope on Jan. 24th. What does this mean?
One of the biggest headlines in STEM that happened during the past week has got to be the James Webb Telescope.
NASA announced on January 24th that the $10 billion observatory has finally reached its destination after travelling nearly 1.6 million km (1 million mi.) since its Christmas Day launch.
Why should you care about the James Webb Telescope?
The Webb will help us gaze deeper into the history never seen before! We are talking about the very first stars and galaxies from over 13.5 billion years ago.
The James Webb Telescope Explained
Here are some quick facts that you should know about the Webb Telescope:
- At a cost of $10 billion, the Webb Telescope and its flight was the culmination of 25 years of research and development.
- It is the largest, most powerful and complex telescope that NASA has ever launched into space.
- It weights 13,700 lbs — roughly the mass of a full-size school bus.
- At 69.5 ft x 46.5 ft (21 m x 14m), the Webb Telescope is comparable to a tennis court.
- The Webb Telescope is equipped with a revolutionary set of 18 hexagonal mirror segments. This honeycomb arrangement allows for it to have the largest possible reflective surface area to make observations with the least amount of gap. Read more about the mirrors here and here.
- The Webb Telescope is so sensitive that it could theoretically detect the heat signature of a bumblebee at the distance of the moon.
- An international team of scientists, engineers, and technicians from 14 countries spent 40 million total hours building the Webb Telescope.
The James Webb Telescope is supposed to be in service for the next 20 years. Have you wondered how it can stay in deep space for so long?
TIME magazine wrote that:
The telescope was launched with a full tank of maneuvering fuel, enough for it to operate for at least 10 years — not bad, but not nearly as long as the 32 years and counting that the Hubble Space Telescope has been in service in a stable low-Earth orbit, where it needs no such fuel.
So… How is the Webb going to stay in service?
Of course the engineers had already considered this aspect. They had built the Webb with a special refill port that would allow for a spacecraft to come in and fuel the tank.
The catch is — this type of spacecraft doesn’t exist yet and NASA only has a decade to make it happen.
But no need to worry!
The European Space Agency Ariane 5 rocket that launched the Webb placed it on a trajectory so true that the telescope had to use virtually none of its precious fuel on outward-bound course corrections, extending its operational life to what engineers now predict could be 20 years or more.
So there we go! Problem solved.
The first images from the Webb Telescope is expected to come in 6 months or earlier. We can’t wait to see how they look like!
Learn more about the Webb Telescope on NASA’s website.
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