What will astronomers eat on Christmas Eve?  their nails

What will astronomers eat on Christmas Eve? their nails

Before it can study the first stars and galaxies, the James Webb Telescope will first have to survive its launch, as well as the long sequence of its deep space deployment before it reaches its favorite point.

On paper since the 1990s, the James Webb Telescope was supposed to cost less than a billion dollars and be ready by the year 2000. After nearly thirty years and ten billion dollars spent, the observatory is finally ready for launch. As a result of the collaboration between NASA, ESA and CSA, this should happen naturally Take off on December 24.

Once deployed, JWT will be the most powerful observatory ever launched into space, and astronomers promise to break through the dark curtain of the universe’s early days. So obviously astronomers are a little worried.

An excited community, but also anxious

« You work for years and everything rises in a cloud of smoke“, emphasize times Marcia Rickey of the University of Arizona. Like many, Dr. Ricky admits she will be interlacing her fingers on December 24th. And for good reason, for twenty years I’ve been designing and building a super sensitive infrared camera designed to explore the faintest objects in the universe.

Michael Turner, a cosmologist at the Kavli Foundation, also describes a mixture of excitement and horror. ” The next decade for astronomy and astrophysics builds on the success of the James Webb Telescope“, explains the researcher. He also adds that the prestige and leadership of the United States in space and science are also at risk.” It’s a heavy burden“, He said” But we know how to do great things«.

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This view was shared by Martin Rees of the University of Cambridge. ” Any failure of JWT would be disastrous for NASAHe writes in particular to The Times.

Dr. Natarajan, who plans to use the Geman theory to examine the origins of black holes, also compares the telescope to other milestones in human history. ” The remarkable enduring accomplishments of human hand and soul, be it the temples of Mahabalipuram, the Pyramids of Giza, the Great Wall of China, or the Sistine Chapel, took time and expense.She said. ” I really see this observatory as one of those monuments of our time. »

if you succeed, This observatory can really change everything. Thanks to its instruments, the telescope will look for the light of the first objects that appeared after the Big Bang. It will also allow a more in-depth study of the structure of galaxies, a more detailed exploration of the disks of protoplanets and measurement of the molecular composition of the atmospheres of nearby planets.

« Given the wide range of expected scientific returns, it is clear that we are all intellectually and emotionally invested,” summarizes Priamvada Natarajan, an astrophysicist at Yale University.

Observatory testing and inspection in May 2020. Credits: Northrop Grumman/NASA

Impeccable ballet for the James Webb Telescope

There is nothing to worry about. While the spacecraft’s Ariane 5 rocket rarely fails to move its payloads into orbit, there is zero risk in space. And even if it survives the launch, the telescope will have a long way to go.

Over the following weeks, the observatory will really have to do this Perform several hundred maneuvers adjusted to the nearest millimeter In order to spread the giant “sunscreen” and its large golden mirror. For six months, everything should be working properly at the risk of dropping the job.

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Among the engineers who designed it, as well as among the astronomers responsible for its use, the level of concern would remain very high for about six months. In fact, no rescue would be possible.

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