By MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace Writer
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) – NASA’s new space telescope opened its massive golden flower-shaped mirror on Saturday, the latest step in the observatory’s spectacular display.
The last part of the 21-foot (6.5-meter) mirror was put in place by order of flight controllers, completing the deployment of the James Webb Space Telescope.
“I am excited about that. What an amazing milestone. Now we see that beautiful pattern in the sky, “said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s chief of science missions.
More powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope, the $ 10 billion Webb will scan the cosmos for light coming from the first stars and galaxies formed 13.7 billion years ago. To accomplish this, NASA had to equip Webb with the largest and most sensitive mirror ever released: his “golden eye,” as scientists call it.
Webb is so big that he had to bend orgami-style to fit the rocket that was launched from South America two weeks ago. The riskiest operation occurred earlier in the week, when the tennis-court-size sunshade was deployed, providing a subzero shadow for the mirror and infrared detectors.
Flight controllers in Baltimore began opening the main mirror on Friday, unfolding the left side as a flip table. The mood was even more upbeat on Saturday, with upbeat music filling the control room as the right side fell into place. After clapping, the controllers immediately went back to work, blocking everything.
This mirror is made of beryllium, a light but strong and cold-resistant metal. Each of its 18 segments is coated with an ultra-thin layer of gold, highly reflective of infrared light. The coffee table-sized hexagonal segments need to be adjusted over the next few days and weeks so that they can focus as one on stars, galaxies, and alien worlds that could contain atmospheric signs of life.
Webb should reach his destination 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometers) away in another two weeks. If everything continues to go well, scientific observations will begin this summer. Astronomers hope to look back within 100 million years of the Big Bang that formed the universe, closer than Hubble has achieved.
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