Nasa engineers complete the unfolding of the James Webb space telescope | James Webb space telescope

NASA engineers completed the final deployment of the agency’s massive James Webb Space Telescope primary mirror yesterday. The maneuver was the final step in the $ 10 billion observatory’s two-week deployment phase that began with its launch on Christmas Day.

The telescope, which has already traveled more than 600,000 miles through space, is the largest and most powerful space telescope ever built and had to be folded tightly to fit inside its Ariane 5 launch rocket.

Since then, engineers have been directing the slow deployment, piece by piece, of the observatory as it heads on its journey toward a gravitationally stable point a million miles from Earth. Your tennis-court-sized parasol, which will keep your delicate instruments cool, has already been deployed, as has your secondary mirror.

Last week, NASA began the final maneuvers involved in the deployment of Webb’s main mirror, which will collect light from the farthest depths of the universe and is made up of 18 gold-plated segments: a central section plus two side panels of three segments. In a sequence of delicate moves, the first panel was successfully implemented on Friday, a process that took five and a half hours.

The launch of the space telescope from French Guiana last month.
Photograph: Bill Ingalls / UPI / Rex / Shutterstock

And this was followed yesterday when engineers launched the final second segment of mirrors that fitted into the central core of the mirror, thus completing the telescope’s vast 6.5-meter diameter mirror. Last night, engineers were completing the last interlocking maneuvers that will keep this last segment in place.

“I feel this kind of glow in my chest right now as I see that mirror unfurled all together,” NASA scientist Michelle Thaller said in a live webcast. In the NASA control room, the Webb mission team staff applauded and congratulated each other.

Described as a “time machine” by scientists, the James Webb Telescope will allow astronomers to study the beginning of the universe shortly after the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago, and look for signs of life-sustaining planets in our own galaxy.

The James Webb, named after a former NASA administrator, still has 400,000 miles to travel to its destination and then it will take another five months for its instruments to be carefully calibrated.

For astronomers, James Webb offers the possibility to capture images of the first galaxies that formed after the Big Bang, understand how stars are born and evolved, and investigate the potential for life to appear in planetary systems. All of this will have to be done in a decade, its likely maximum life. After 10 years, the telescope is expected to run out of fuel and slowly drift off course.

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