Cape Canaveral- NASA’s new space telescope opened its huge mirror in the shape of a golden flower on Saturday, the latest step in the observatory’s dramatic presentation.
The final portion of the 21-foot mirror was placed by order of the flight controllers, to complete the deployment of the James Webb Space Telescope.
“I’m excited about it,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, chief of science missions at NASA. “It’s an amazing landmark. And now we’re seeing this beautiful pattern in the sky.”
More powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope, the $10 billion Webb will scan the universe for light from the first stars and galaxies that formed 13.7 billion years ago. To do this, NASA had to provide the Web with the largest and most sensitive mirror ever launched, the “golden eye,” as scientists call it.
The Webb is so large that it had to be folded organically to fit the rocket that left two weeks ago. The most dangerous operation took place earlier in the week, when a canopy the size of a tennis court was deployed, providing subzero shade for the mirror and infrared detectors.
Flight controllers in Baltimore began opening the primary mirror on Friday, opening the left side like a loose-leaf table. The mood was more lively on Saturday, as upbeat music filled the control room as the right-hand side snapped into place. After the applause, the monitors immediately got back to work, and they fixed everything.
This mirror is made of beryllium, a light but strong, cold-resistant metal. Each of its eighteen parts are coated with a very thin layer of gold, highly reflective of infrared light. Hexagons the size of a coffee table will need adjusting over the next few days and weeks so you can focus on stars, galaxies, and space worlds that may contain signs of atmospheric life.
Webb should reach his destination within a million miles within another two weeks.
If all goes well, scientific observations will begin this summer.
Astronomers hope to go back nearly 100 million years from the Big Bang that shaped the universe, closer than Hubble achieved.
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