Space and Science

The ‘golden eye’ of the Hubble Space Telescope has finally opened

The 'golden eye' of the Hubble Space Telescope has finally opened, clearing the final major hurdle.

The final phase in the dramatic unfolding of NASA’s new space telescope was the opening of its massive, gold-plated, flower-shaped mirror on Saturday.

At the instruction of flight controllers, the final section of the 21-foot (6.5-meter) mirror swung into place, completing the unfolding of the James Webb Space Telescope.

“I’m upset about it.” What an incredible achievement. “We’re seeing that lovely pattern up there in the sky right now,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s science missions chief.

The $10 billion Webb Space Telescope, which will be more powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope, will survey the sky for light streaming from the first stars and galaxies that created 13.7 billion years ago. To do so, NASA had to outfit Webb with the largest and most sensitive mirror ever launched — the largest and most sensitive mirror ever launched.

Webb is so large that it had to be folded orgami-style to fit into the rocket that launched two weeks ago from South America. The most dangerous operation took place earlier this week, when a tennis court-sized sunshield unfurled, providing subzero shade for the mirror and infrared detectors.

Flight controllers in Baltimore started unfolding the left side of the primary mirror like a drop-leaf table on Friday. On Saturday, the mood was even better, with joyful music filling the control room as the right side was snapped into place. The controllers returned to work immediately after applauding, locking everything down. When the procedure was finally completed 2 1/2 hours later, they leapt to their feet, shared high-fives, and cheered from behind masks, doing their best to remain calm.

“We have a spectacular telescope placed on orbit, the likes of which the world has never seen,” Zurbuchen remarked, thanking the team. “How does it feel to be a part of history, everyone?” “You’ve just done it.”

Astronomer Antonella Nota of the European Space Agency, who works with him, said the team made things look “so amazingly easy” after years of planning.
“We’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time,” she remarked.

The main mirror on Webb’s desk is composed of beryllium, a light but strong and cold-resistant metal. Each of the 18 segments is coated with a very tiny layer of gold that reflects infrared light very well. In the next weeks, the hexagonal, coffee table-size portions will need to be altered so that they can focus as well as possible.

“It’s like we have 18 little prima donnas doing their own thing, singing their own tune in whatever key they’re in, and we have to make them function like a chorus, which is a meticulous, arduous process,” operations project scientist Jane Rigby told reporters.

Webb is expected to arrive at its objective of 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometers) in two weeks; it has already traveled over 667,000 miles (1 million kilometers) from Earth since its launch on Christmas Day. Science observations will begin this summer if everything goes well. Astronomers expect to gaze back to within 100 million years of the Big Bang’s formation, which is 100 million years closer than Hubble has gotten.

Despite the team’s remarkable success over the last two weeks, project manager Bill Ochs emphasised that the team isn’t letting up.

“It’s not going to get any easier from here.” “Everything is on a level playing field,” he explained.


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