PALO ALTO (KPIX 5) – Equipped with technology developed in the Bay Area, the James Webb Space Telescope is expected to leave Earth on Christmas Eve, in a bid to provide a deeper look into space.
It’s a much-anticipated launch, as scientists hope it will offer a new look at space and time – and a first-light glimpse.
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“James Webb is a flagship mission to study the first light in the universe, the evolution of stars and planets, and it is the next major observatory to be launched by NASA,” said Dr Alison Nordt, director space science and instrumentation at the Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center. “This is the largest scientific mission ever carried out by NASA. It is an international partnership with Europeans, Canadians and NASA.
It uses technology that was created and developed at the Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center in Palo Alto, called “Near Infrared Camera”, known as “NIRCam”.
“NIRCam is the main imaging camera for the James Webb Space Telescope,” Nordt said. “It’s also the wavefront sensor. So this is where we detect the light coming in to tell us how to align the primary mirror, and the primary mirror is made up of 18 segments that can each adjust in 7 different ways. So how do you align it? You must have NIRCam to do this.
NIRCam was assembled and extensively tested in Palo Alto, before being shipped to NASA in 2013. Some of the tests involved a cryogenic chamber, as the telescope will operate in space at temperatures of around -400 ° F.
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“If NIRCam isn’t working, the whole observatory isn’t working,” Nordt said.
The goal is to provide a look into space and time that has never been seen before. The James Webb Space Telescope is bigger and more powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope.
“The James Webb Space Telescope and photos taken with NIRCam will rewrite your children’s science books. They’re going to teach us the evolution of the universe, they’re going to teach us about our own beginnings and how stars and planets are formed, ”Nordt told KPIX 5.“ We’re really fascinated by what JWST – the Webb Telescope – will tell us that we did not imagine possible. What questions will this raise – and attempt to answer – that we haven’t even thought about yet? “
Nordt said the pictures would likely not start arriving until next summer.
“NIRCam aims to see what these early stars and galaxies look like. We’ll also be looking at how galaxies evolve and form, and we’ll look at things closer to us, like how stars evolve, how they create protoplanets, and how planets evolve, ”she said.
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The James Webb Space Telescope is scheduled to launch at 4:20 a.m. (PST) on December 24 from French Guiana in South America, just off the equator.