James Webb, Jonathan Amos, Nasa discussed on BBC Newshour


Rainforest to the edge of time itself James Webb begins a voyage back to the birth of the universe The launch of the James Webb space telescope named after the NASA chief who guided the agency to the moon in the 1960s This telescope has been decades in the designing and building its cost $10 billion and if all goes well it will give us as you heard from that announcer at the liftoff of the telescope it will give us an insight into the furthest reaches of the universe And so it's early origins At the moment you will hear from a senior net member of the NASA team but first here's the BBC's space correspondent Jonathan Amos who was telling me has himself been feeling the nerves today This was a big day There's no question about that A day that was a long time coming Obviously there have been people intimately connected with the project to have been working on it for more than 30 years It's quite extraordinary to think that there were people speculating what sort of telescope they should have after Hubble when Hubble had not even been launched Hubble was launched in 1990 It was transformative and yet a few years before it went up They had a blank sheet of paper and they were trying to sketch the future And the future has now arrived And there have been some bumps on the road to get to this point We've spent a lot more money than we expected to say it's taken a lot longer than we expected Rockets are dangerous things They're controlled explosions And when you've worked that long and you've spent that much money and then you put it on top of a controlled explosion well it's not surprising that everybody is anxiety driven There will be many astronomers today who simply could not watch that will have gone for a walk I'm paid to watch so I had to but my palms were sweating And in terms now of the stages it has to complete before it becomes operational Can you take us through this sort of the journey and also the unfolding Yeah so this thing is so big It's the size of a tennis court There is no rocket which you can put it up as a thing in itself You have to fold it in order to get it in the top of the rocket And of course if you fold it you then have to unfurl it as well And that is really quite complex When you consider all of the mechanisms that it has to use this huge mirror 6 and a half meters 21 feet across It has its wings sort of folded backwards And then there is this enormous sunchild 5 layers very thin membranes that not only dissipate the heat of the sun but also the light of the sun as well so that the telescope can look at the cosmos without interference from stray light And that's going to be fun I use the word advisedly to watch them get it all apart like some butterfly unfurling its wings It's not easy You know engineers talk about single point failures Actions that have to occur in sequence on cue otherwise the whole thing is a disaster There are 344 potential single point failures on this telescope as we move out to its observing station And Jonathan given that also then from what I understand it needs to cool itself to a ridiculously low temperature in order to be able to be sensitive enough to get these faint echoes from the edge of time How long is it going to be do you think before we can expect information to make it back to us Yeah they take about a month to cool it down So this telescope operates in the infrared because the light that comes from the most distant stars comes to us at those longer wavelengths longer than them visible light what we detect with our eyes And that's a kind of heat energy as well So you need to be colder than the thing that you are trying to see Otherwise it's kind of like trying to look at the matchstick in front of a burning haystack And that takes a month to get us down to that temperature -230 So it's going to take a little while They have to focus the mirror And then they need to set it up You know they'll do some trial pictures They have promised us the first pictures at a press conference in 6 months time Some market calendar We will that was Jonathan Amos the BBC science correspondent well to find out more about why the telescope is so important and how much of a scientific achievement it is my colleague James Menendez has been speaking to the astrophysicist Thomas zurbuchen He's NASA's head of science He was at French Guiana for the launch The space telescope is the biggest most ambitious mission we have at NASA It is a mission in a century If you want for us it's a mission and a generation And so for us it's the highest priority and frankly all of our eyes are on that across the entire agency And what makes it so significant Telescope is unique and it's focused on infrared signatures on the universe and it is 6 to ten times the sensitivity and the area the collection area of the best telescope so far which is Hubble Space Telescope And I had read correct me if I'm wrong Yes that it could see the heat signature of a bumblebee at the distance of the moon Have you heard that Absolutely That's correct So if you put a bumblebee kind of at the temperature at the earth put it at the moon You can see that heat signatures It's absolutely sensitive to heat signatures from far far away That's what it takes to look at these first generation galaxies and stars Yes I was going to say it's not bumblebees that you're trying to spot anywhere You're looking back right at the start of the universe What are you expecting to be able to see exactly There is a really important time in the universe we've never observed And that is right after the Big Bang when the first star slide about of that early universe and the first galaxies come we have never seen it That's between a 100 million to 300 million years after the Big Bang It's the baby pictures are toddler pictures of the universe We've never seen that We know our current universe because of the Hubble Space Telescope and other ground based systems we've never observed early time I mean it's hard for us to well mortals like me to get my head.

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