James Webb telescope: ‘First starlight’ instrument complete

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Europe has reached another milestone in its contribution to Hubble's successor – the James Webb Space Telescope.


An industrial team led from Astrium in Germany has completed the build of the Near-Infrared spectrometer, one of four instruments that will go in JWST.

NirSpec's job will be to determine the age, composition, movement and distance of the objects in its field of view.

The expectation is that some of these targets will include the very first stars to shine in the Universe.

That would mean picking up light signals that have travelled across space for perhaps 13.6 billion light-years – something Hubble cannot do.

JWST will make it possible with a suite of next-generation technologies, including a 6.5m primary mirror (more than double the width of Hubble's main mirror), and a shield the size of a tennis court to guard its keen vision against the light and heat from the Sun.

Written By: Jonathan Amos
continue to source article at bbc.co.uk

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  1. Wow!! I can’t wait to see the images taken with this telescope. It’s just so mind boggling to think about this: 13.6 billion ly’s, the confines of the universe. This reminds me of what Stephen Hawking once said: “We are very very small but we are profoundly capable of very very big things”.

    Science is just so beautiful. It’s one of the things that give me hope in humanity amongst the daily atrocities going on in the world.

  2. The one outstanding task – and it is a very onerous one – will be to launch JWST in October 2018. This will be performed by an Ariane 5 rocket from Esa’s Kourou spaceport in French Guiana.

    There is still lots work to be done to keep up to schedule.

    It is easy to forget that Hubble’s mission has required six extremely expensive shuttle launches. For sure, the old observatory has had a major impact on modern science, but many of those I speak to expect nothing less from JWST.

    With a much higher orbit, this will not be possible for James Webb.

    The mission will launch in 2018 on an Ariane rocket. The observing position will be 1.5 million km from Earth

    It needs to be right first time!

    “When Hubble was first conceived it had a set of science requirements and more-or-less predicted discoveries it could make; and indeed, it made all of those. But the most wondrous things that Hubble has found are the things that weren’t predicted. Webb will have things just like that,” he told me.

    And Prof Mark McCaughrean, from the European Space Agency, puts it slightly differently: “There is no question at all that JWST is a central part of the next decade’s exploration of the Universe. Many other observatories have been planned around the knowledge of JWST being there, and taking complementary data. It advances in sensitivity not by factors of 10, not even by factors of a hundred in many places, but by factors of a thousand or ten thousand. It’s a telescope whose time has come.”

    • James Webb’s main mirror has around seven times more collecting area than Hubble’s 2.4m primary mirror

    • The sunshield is about 22m by 12m. There will be a 300-degree difference in temperature between the two sides

    • James Webb’s instruments must be very cold to ensure their own infrared glow does not swamp the observations

    The near-infra-red system will need to remain near absolute zero to operate effectively.

    • In reply to #3 by This Is Not A Meme:

      What if the first light already passed us?

      I don’t understand the universe AT ALL.

      It cannot, It’s just far away. It’ll just get fainter and getting further away. The magic of astronomy, looking back in time.

  3. So humans built Hubble; a really clever piece of engineering that brought wonderful images of a brilliant and complex universe and led humans to ask more questions. So they built a new one, far more sophisticated with all the accumulated knowledge since Hubble to look to the very beginning of light in the universe. Wow!

    Such a wondrous and humbling image of humans, so how come there are still those who think the universe is quite small and an invisible man made it so he could give them permission to control children and women so they can feel better about their ignorance and small minded world?
    A far less wondrous view of humans, but it seems to be a majority …… or am I still smarting from the article about the 8 year old “bride”?

  4. In reply to #1 by NearlyNakedApe:

    Science is just so beautiful. It’s one of the things that give me hope in humanity amongst the daily atrocities going on in the world.

    Agreed.

    I can’t help considering humanity on a spectrum with this kind of scientific achievement at one end and the atrocities and primitive religions at the other.

    If the religions were, any of them, truthful, then God would surely have endowed the fruits of science and research to those who submit to her. As it happens, the opposite appears to be true, with the most regressive and barbarous people being the least favoured with useful knowledge.

    Thank God!

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