A NASA space mirror of the James Webb Space Telescope will one day help astronomers peer into the first galaxies of the early universe. Since the final primary mirror was installed on the massive device nearly three months ago by NASA, the structures have remained individually protected with black covers.
The unveiling occurred today at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, marking another milestone leading up to the 2018 launch of the widely anticipated telescope. The massive golden mirror is made up of 18 hexagonal components which will work together as one structure, FOX News reports.
Each coffee table-sized mirror segment is made from beryllium and weighs roughly 46 pounds. And, the parts are each coated with a fine film of vaporized gold to optimize the reflection of infrared light.
The James Webb telescope has been described as a ‘time machine’ that could help unravel the secrets of our universe. The telescope will be used to look back to the first galaxies born in the early universe more than 13.5 billion years ago, and observe the sources of stars, exoplanets, and even the moons and planets of our solar system.
There at least 200 billion Earth-like planets in our galaxy - and now NASA officials claim we could be on the verge of finding life on one of them. During a talk in Washington earlier this month, the space agency announced that humanity is likely to encounter extra-terrestrials within a decade.
“I believe we are going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth in the next decade and definitive evidence in the next 10 to 20 years,” Ellen Stofan, chief scientist for NASA, said. “We know where to look, we know how to look, and in most cases we have the technology.”
Jeffery Newmark, interim director of heliophysics at the agency, added: “It’s definitely not an if, it’s a when. We are not talking about little green men,” said Stofan. “We are talking about little microbes.”
The announcement has been prompted by the recent discovery of water by NASA in surprising places, Value Walk reported. Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA, noted that a recent study of the Martian atmosphere found 50 per cent of the planet’s northern hemisphere once had oceans a mile deep. When it is launched in 2018, it will be the world’s biggest and most powerful telescope, capable of peering back 200 million years after the Big Bang.
Last month, NASA engineers in Maryland got a little closer to launch with the completion of testing on its science cameras and the installation of the final flight mirrors. After over a year of planning, nearly four months of final cold testing and monitoring, the testing on the science instruments module of the observatory was completed. They were removed from a giant thermal vacuum chamber at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland called the Space Environment Simulator.
Also known as the SES, the 40-foot-tall, 27-foot-diameter cylindrical chamber duplicates the vacuum and extreme temperatures of space. The ISIM, or Integrated Science Instrument Module is one of three major elements that comprise the James Webb Space Telescope Observatory flight system. This is 260 degrees Fahrenheit colder than any place on the Earth’s surface has ever been.
On March 6, 2016, shortly after the successful instrument testing, the last mirrors in Webb’s optical path were installed into the telescope. In February, the primary mirrors were all installed.
Once in space and fully deployed, the 18 primary mirror segments will work together as one large 21.3 feet diameter mirror.
“Engineers have been working tirelessly to install these incredible, nearly perfect mirrors that will focus light from previously hidden realms of planetary atmospheres, star forming regions and the very beginnings of the universe,” John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA said, following the achievement. With the mirrors finally complete, we are one step closer to the audacious observations that will unravel the mysteries of the Universe.”
The CBC said that by using a robotic arm reminiscent of a claw machine, the team meticulously installed all of Webb’s primary mirror segments onto the telescope structure. Each of the hexagonal-shaped mirror segments measures just over 4.2 feet across.