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Exploring Ancient Galaxies: A First Look At NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope

Oct 10, 2016 04:29 AM EDT
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This is what it's like to spend eight months on Mars

NASA is preparing the James Webb Space Telescope for its one-of-a-kind mission: to peer at the first stars in the universe.

The James Webb Space Telescope will allow scientists to see the farthest reaches of the universe and search for life on distant planets. But for now, it will be sitting at one of the world's largest clean room at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland and remain on Earth for the next two years.

"We want to see the first stars and understand how stars, galaxies, and planetary systems are formed," John Durning, deputy manager for James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), said in a report by Edinburgh Review. "We don't understand how we got here and we need to go to the beginning to figure out."

The JWST is a joint project between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency. It is made of 18 highly sensitive gold coated-mirrors designed to detect light even from a solitary match lighted on the moon.

The development process of the James Webb Space Telescope is being documented on the Webbcam. During the telescope's final levels of assembly in the past two months, its mirrored face has been facing away from the viewing gallery. The primary mirror, which is made of 18 hexagonal segments of ultra-lightweight beryllium, has been fully assembled since June 2016, and the secondary and tertiary mirrors are also in place.

In the next few weeks, the JWST team will conduct interferometer measurements, as well as vibrations and temperature tests to make sure the mirror will hold its shape during launch. Each of the 18 segments has been tested already, but further testing will be done after the whole mirror is assembled.

"This'll be the first data we'll have of the overall primary mirror... This'll be the start of proving that each of the 18 segments works together," Mike Menzel, senior engineer of JWST told Popular Science.

The $8.7 billion project, which was named after the NASA administrator who helped launch Apollo to the moon during the 1960s, is scheduled to launch at the French Guiana on board an Ariane 5 rocket in October 2018.

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