News / Science & Technology

NASA to Launch Telescope That Will See Into the Past

The first six flight-ready James Webb Space Telescope's primary mirror segments are prepped to begin final cryogenic testing at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama
The first six flight-ready James Webb Space Telescope's primary mirror segments are prepped to begin final cryogenic testing at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama

Multimedia

Light from distant galaxies, billions of light years away from us, is so faint that it shifts from the visible spectrum ino the infrared segment and becomes heat. It can be detected only by instruments cooled to almost absolute zero. The U.S. space agency NASA is building a new space telescope that will be cool in both senses of the word.

In the "clean room" of  NASA's Goddard Space Center, outside Washington, engineers are building the new infrared space telescope named after NASA's second director James Webb.  They hope that when deployed in 2014. it will help them look many billions of light years into the past.

The deputy senior project scientist for the telescope, Jonathan Gardner, says its 6.5-meter-wide (21-foot-wide) mirror will be able to detect extremely faint infrared signals, because it will be kept at a very cold temperature, close to absolute zero (minus 459 degrees F).  A large radiator screen, the size of a tennis court, will shield it from the warmth of the sun and earth.

But how will the scientists be able to look into the past?  

"We can see back in time because light takes time to get from there to here.  So, as we look further and further away, it takes longer and longer for the light to get from where it's emitted to here and we can actually see backwards in time.  And if we look far enough away, we're actually looking back to when the universe was much younger than it is today, when the light was emitted from these galaxies.  We're looking at the universe when it was younger and we're looking back most of the way to the Big Bang," Gardner explained.

Gardner says scientists want to know when the first galaxies were formed.  What did they look like?  What were their features?  How were the stars born?  Many are also hoping to find something we don't yet even know exists.

The telescope will be equipped with three infrared cameras, more sensitive than ever before.  But its most interesting parts are the special gold-coated mirrors that form the big primary mirror.

"The primary mirror is made up of 18 hexagonal segments, as you can see on the model.  Each of these segments is supported by actuators which can move.  So, during the lifetime of the mission, when it's in orbit, we can send the commands to move these mirrors and that way we can constantly keep them in alignment, in a common focus," he said.

Jonathan Gardner says the new telescope will be available to scientists around the world, whose projects will be chosen according to their scientific value.

"We will ask for proposals from astronomers.  Any astronomer, at any university, in any country can write a proposal for what they want to do with the telescope.  The committee, probably about a hundred astronomers, will consider these proposals, and they will read all the proposals and choose the very best science that will be done that year," Gardner stated.

Gardner says the process makes sure that the telescope is doing the best science it can, answering the most important, relevant, current questions.

The new telescope is scheduled to be launched in 2014 and is expected to function around 10 years.  The life expectancy is limited by the quantity of fuel in its booster jets, used for periodical adjustment of its position in space.  The telescope will be stationed a million-and-a-half kilometers, or 932,000 miles, from earth, so astronauts will not be able to visit and replenish its fuel.

You May Like

Video British Fighters on Frontline of Islamic State Information War

It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for Islamic State alongside other foreign jihadists More

Pakistan's Political Turmoil Again Shines Spotlight on Military

Thousands of protesters calling for PM Sharif to step down continue protests in front of parliament, as critics fear political impasse could spur another military coup More

Photogallery Ebola Quarantines Spark Anxiety in Liberian Capital

Food prices rise sharply as residents attempting purchases clash with security forces, leaving one person dead More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid