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NASA prepares for Christmas Eve launch of James Webb Space Telescope

1 year 11 months 1 week ago Monday, December 20 2021 Dec 20, 2021 December 20, 2021 10:43 AM December 20, 2021 in News
Source: BBC News

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is scheduled to launch Friday, December 24 from Kourou, French Guiana. 

The $10 billion successor to the Hubble Space Telescope is designed to provide earth's observers with a deeper look into the Universe than even the Hubble could offer.

According to BBC News, Webb will allow humans to view events that occurred more than 13.5 billion years ago.

Scientists also anticipate utilizing Webb in their studies of various atmospheres of distant planets, as they hope to find signs of life in the universe.

NASA is leading the Webb project alongside the European Space Agency (Esa) and over the weekend, it released images depicting Webb's encapsulation, meaning the moment the telescope was fitted with a giant fairing that will protect it as it makes its way through the atmosphere. 

A video camera was installed on the Ariane to show the telescope moving away into the distance to begin its mission.

Engineers postponed the launch for a few days to investigate a troublesome communications cable carrying data from Webb to ground-support equipment. After this was addressed, the final "aliveness" tests on the telescope's subsystems could be run.

Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's director of science, said scientists and engineers will continue to closely monitor Webb right up to the moment of launch.

"We're not taking any risks with Webb," he told members of the press on Thursday. "It's already risky enough the way it is. We're absolutely making sure that everything works."

Arianespace, the French company that manages operations in Kourou, will host a launch readiness review Tuesday. 

Assuming no issues arise, the Ariane vehicle, with Webb bolted on top, will roll out to the pad.

The rocket will have a half-hour window to leave the ground Friday.

Should poor weather conditions or minor technical issues impede Friday's launch, there are Plan B options for Webb to take off during certain windows of time on December 25 or 26. 

Alongside its ability to provide researchers with information related to the search for extraterrestrial life, one of Webb's main goals is to provide images of the earliest objects to form after the Big Bang.

Scientists expect these objects to be colossal stars that grouped together in the first galaxies.

Webb will also probe the atmospheres of planets outside our Solar System - so-called exoplanets - to see if they hold gases that might hint at the presence of biology.

"Webb will have an opportunity to study these exoplanets and answer the fundamental questions that we astronomers ask ourselves, and the public alike - are we alone? Is Earth unique? Do we have other planets out there that can host life? These are very ambitious questions that speak to all of us," said Antonella Nota, Esa's Webb project scientist.

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