Up and Away – James Webb Telescope Launches
Not since they were kids have space launch fanatics had a reason to get up early on Christmas morning. At about 5:30 a.m. MST December 25, the rocket carrying the James Webb Space Telescope left the ground from a launch site in French Guiana, on the Earth's equator in South America.
A number of nations were involved in the this ambitious NASA telescope project, including the European Space Agency (ESA), which was responsible for the successful launch. The Canadian Space Agency was another major sponsor. Because of what astronomers hope to see, this telescope is headed to a position in space about a million miles away from Earth. The James Webb telescope hopes to build on the discoveries made by the Hubble space telescope, which has been extending our look into the galaxy and universe.
A lot still needs to happen before it starts operation. For instance, it had to be folded up for the launch; so for the next two weeks it will slowly be unfolding. Already, the solar panels have extended, giving it some power to do the work. That happened almost immediately after it separated from the Ariane 5 rocket that lifted it out of the atmosphere. The main transmission antennae unfolded successfully Sunday.
According to Northrop Grumman, one of the main contractors of the telescope, the primary mirror is 21.4 feet in diameter, which is seven times larger than the Hubble. It also will be protected from the Sun's light with a huge shade, dropping the temperature down to a minus 380 degrees - colder than eastern Montana this week.
When you figure in the speed of light, the telescope is expected to see over 13 billion years into the past. The high tech instrument will reach its observation orbit in about a month. Full operation will happen later this year.