Webb space telescope launches on December 18th

(Image credit: NASA)

MONTREAL – In just over a month, the world’s largest and most advanced telescope will be launched into orbit from the South American spaceport, with enthusiastic Rene Doyon, a professor of physics at Montreal.

The James Webb Space Telescope is set to explode on December 18 with an Ariane 5 rocket from the Guyana Space Center in French Guiana. The Infrared Observatory, a collaboration between NASA and European and Canadian space agencies, is 100 times more powerful than its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, launched in 1990.

It has two Canadian components: a fine guidance sensor to help stay locked to the target, and an instrument called the Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph, or NIRISS, to help study astronomical objects from exoplanets to distant galaxies.

Doyon, a professor of physics at the Universite de Montreal, is a principal investigator of tools made in Canada and has worked for this for 20 years. He said it is both an exciting and painful time.

There will be a lot of exciting moments before the massive telescope starts working. Two weeks after launch are critical when the telescope opens in the detailed order described by NASA engineers at a recent press conference as an origami exercise.

“That’s what we call the 14-day horror – the time it takes to deploy a telescope – but I’m very confident,” Doyon said in a recent interview. “We’ve tested this and re-tested it, so there’s reason to believe everything will be fine.”

The telescope, named after a former NASA administrator who led the Apollo lunar exploration program, is tightly folded for launch, and thousands of parts must work to open properly. It is used at a distance of 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, too far to service than Hubble, which was only 500 kilometers away.

The instruments in the Webb telescope can only work properly at very low temperatures – minus 233 degrees C – so one of its components is a tennis court-sized sunscreen that protects it from the sun’s heat and light. Earth and moon.

Canada’s contribution means that when the telescope is operational – expected by mid-next year – the country will be guaranteed at least 5% of the telescope’s available observation time. Of the 286 proposals approved worldwide during the first year of operation, 10 are Canadian principal investigators.

Many have been looking forward to the release of Webb, which has been delayed several times. Doyon said Webb’s infrared wavelength viewing capabilities mean scientists can see some things for the first time, such as the first stars and galaxies from the early universe after the initial explosion. It also represents a huge leap in the study of exoplanets – planets outside our solar system – to find clues to early life in their atmosphere.

Sarah Gallagher, a science adviser at the Canadian Space Agency, said this is an exciting time.

“It’s the culmination of decades of work by truly talented people, and I’m so proud of our Canadian contribution, scientific and industrial. I think it really shows the strength of our community, “he said in an interview.” We have people who want to explore the bodies of our solar system, the planets around other stars, galaxies in the early universe, and all sorts of different topics. “

Among them is the Loic Albert, who can continue his work on brown dwarfs – essentially failed stars. About 20 of them are looking for partners in the project, and he is taking advantage of Webb’s sensitivity.

“For me, James Webb opens up the opportunity to explore certain types of brown dwarfs, the coldest and least massive brown dwarfs. They are so weak that they cannot be observed from the ground, “said Albert, a researcher at the Universite de Montreal and an expert on scientific instruments at Webb.

Albert says scientists who have studied exoplanets using Hubble’s limited abilities should receive Webb’s awards. “For the exoplanet community, it’s going to be a game changer,” he said in an interview. “It makes it possible to measure the atmosphere of exoplanets with a large number of planets and fine details.”

Doyon, who plans to travel to French Guiana for a launch next month, said the possibility of unexpected discoveries is the most exciting part before Webb’s launch.

“Every time a new telescope is launched, history shows that after five or ten years, one will ask what was the biggest discovery of the telescope. It’s something that wasn’t planned,” he said. “I’m sure Webb is the same.”

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