Have you ever looked up into the night sky and wondered what intriguing sights lay beyond the naked eye, or even the most powerful telescope? What unimaginable sights still wait to be discovered? What can be seen is pretty incredible on its own, but some have wondered, when will science bring us the next amazing piece of technology to let us see evenÂ deeper into space?
Though the U.S. has long led the way in science and technology, due to lack of interest in “real” college majors, China and India could very well be the next nations to lead in those industries, as a comparison of the number of college students that now major in science and engineering shows.
Over twenty years later, the James Webb Space Telescope is almost complete. Scientists estimate that the Webb will be about 100 times more powerful than the Hubble and will be placed in a darker part of space, orbiting about a million miles from the Earth, whereas the Hubble orbits about 375 miles from the Earth. Avi Loeb, a Harvard astrophysicist who is helping plan the Webb’s mission, told reporters,
“This is similar to archaeology. We are digging deep into the universe. But as the sources of light become fainter and farther away, you need a big telescope like the James Webb.”
Named for the head of NASA from February 1961 – October 1968, James Webb, also the man linked to the Apollo moon mission now will become a part of the biggest astronomy experiment in twenty years.
The Webb, according to NASA’s website, “is an orbiting infrared observatory.” With a strong enough piece of equipment, scientists say they will be able to see the births of galaxies due to a longer wavelength. A longer wavelength “allows the scope to look much closer to the beginning of time and to hunt for unobserved formation of first galaxies, as well as look inside dust clouds where stars and planetary systems are forming today,” according to the website. They will be able to accomplish these things using infrared technology, gold covered mirrors, and tennis-court sized sun shields.
NASA’s deputy project manager and engineer Paul Geithner, who also worked extensively on the Hubble, oversees the Webb, on which tests began this week.
The team plans to have portions of the scope and spacecraft joined together with special glue and bolts by early next year. “It’s not feasible to test it as a complete system. So what that means is we have to test different pieces of it and convince ourselves through testing and analysis that when it’s put together, it will work,” Geithner said. “The biggest stress is not the shaking from the launch. But the whole thing shrinks when it cools down, so there’s a lot of stress on the joints and it tries to tear itself apart.”
The venture began in 2004, with plans for a completion date of October 2018, though the project has seen many ups and downs since its birth, like overspending the budget which was originally $3 million, and thanks to funding by Congress, has grown to $8.8 million.
For more information on this monumental project, including the specific parts being built like the Eye of Observatory, Spacecraft Bus and Sunshield Subsystem, diagrams, tests, and progress updates, visit NASA’s official website at http://jwst.nasa.gov/orbit.html