On Saturday, the team behind the recently launched James Webb Space Observatory completed unfolding the instrument’s characteristic golden mirror, bringing the telescope one step closer to transmitting data on the universe’s first galaxies.
“The successful completion of all of the Webb Space Telescope’s deployments is historic,” stated Gregory L. Robinson, Webb’s program director at NASA Headquarters. “This is the first time a NASA-led mission has attempted to complete a difficult sequence in space to unfurl an observatory — a great feat for our team, NASA, and the rest of the world.”
On Friday, NASA and its partners, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency, began remotely unfolding the two wings of Webb’s primary mirror. The task was finished around 10:15 a.m. PT on Saturday when the second wing hooked into position.
According to NASA, the mirror is made up of 18 hexagonal pieces. It is 21 feet long and is the largest ever sent into orbit. As a result, the telescope is the world’s largest and most complex space science telescope. This summer, the telescope will transmit its first photographs after the team painstakingly flexes and aligns the segments and calibrates other devices.
The telescope was designed to peer back over 13.5 billion years in time, capturing infrared light from stars and other celestial objects with more resolution than ever before. In a statement, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said the mission is “an unparalleled endeavor that is on the verge of seeing the light from the first galaxies and understanding the wonders of our universe.”
The primary mirror will be unfolded when the other components of the $10 billion telescope, launched on Dec. 25, have been set up. The five thin layers of the tennis-court-size sun shield, for example, are designed to block unwanted heat signals produced by the sun, Earth, and Moon from interfering with Webb’s infrared readings.
Webb will travel 1 million miles from Earth over the next six months and begin beaming back photographs of the universe that promise to tell a new, accurate story about the universe. Webb will not only inform us about unseen parts of space, but it will also be able to confirm whether or not we accurately chronicled the events that occurred just after the Big Bang.