An anxiety-ridden launch that’s been decades in the making
On Christmas Day, NASA is gifting astronomers one of the greatest presents it can give by launching the most powerful space telescope ever created. Called the James Webb Space Telescope, or JWST, the space observatory is meant to be the successor to NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope already in orbit around Earth. And it promises to completely transform the way we study the cosmos.
Sporting the biggest mirror of any space-bound telescope ever launched, JWST is tasked with collecting infrared light from some of the most distant stars and galaxies in the Universe. With this capability, the telescope will be able to peer far back in time, imaging some of the earliest objects to have formed just after the Big Bang. On top of that, it will unravel the mysteries of supermassive black holes, distant alien worlds, stellar explosions, dark matter, and more.
NASA has worked for nearly three decades to craft this telescope and get it to the launchpad. Now, the telescope is finally set to launch on top of a European Ariane 5 rocket out of Europe’s primary launch site in Kourou, French Guiana in South America, on Saturday, December 25th. But once the telescope is in space, there’s still a long way to go. Because JWST is so massive, it must fly to space folded up. Once in space, it will undergo a complex unfurling process that will take up to two weeks to complete. And this reverse origami must go exactly right for the telescope to function properly. (more)
Source: The Verge