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

    Clinton, Trump and the 'Woman’s Card'

    Ask supporters of Democratic front-runner in US presidential campaign, and they’ll tell you Republican presidential candidate is playing a dangerous hand

    Russian Censorship Group Seeks Chinese Help to Better Control Internet

    At recent Safe Internet League forum in Moscow, speakers from both nations underscored desire for authorities to further limit and control information online

    Video Makeshift Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Free classes in Islamabad park serve a few of the country’s nearly 25 million out-of-school youths; NGO cites ‘education crisis’

    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.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora