Something incredible is happening on December 22nd – something that will fundamentally change our understanding of the universe, and no one is talking about it. Clearly someone dropped the ball on this matter — or in this case, the telescope.
The James Webb Space Telescope, being referred to as the successor to Hubble, is set for launch in French Guiana on December 22nd, a delay from its previous December 18th scheduled departure. The delay was caused by the aforementioned dropping — actual dropping, not a metaphor — of the infrared space telescope. As described by NASA, who is working in conjunction with the European Space Agency (ESA), the incident happened thusly:
The launch readiness date for the James Webb Space Telescope is moving to no earlier than December 22 to allow for additional testing of the observatory, following a recent incident that occurred during Webb’s launch preparations.
The incident occurred during operations at the satellite preparation facility in Kourou, French Guiana, performed under Arianespace overall responsibility. Technicians were preparing to attach Webb to the launch vehicle adapter, which is used to integrate the observatory with the upper stage of the Ariane 5 rocket. A sudden, unplanned release of a clamp band — which secures Webb to the launch vehicle adapter — caused a vibration throughout the observatory.
A NASA-led anomaly review board was immediately convened to investigate and instituted additional testing to determine with certainty the incident did not damage any components. NASA and its mission partners will provide an update when the testing is completed at the end of this week.
Webb was previously scheduled to launch December 18 on an Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket from Kourou.
Webb has since been cleared for launch, and will go on to do incredible things. An infrared telescope three times the size of Hubble and a hundred times more powerful, Webb will allow us to not only detect life on exoplanets that we’ve already discovered, but evaluate whether or not the atmosphere is being modified on those planets. In addition, with this telescope, we will be able to see into the heart of the universe and view the formation of the first stars and galaxies created by the Big Bang.
This increased range can be attributed to the golden mirror that has been one of the Webb’s big talking points. The mirror, which is three times as wide as Hubble’s, is, in fact, actually multiple mirrors: eighteen separate segments of hexagonal beryllium, a very strong and ultra-lightweight material. Each segment is covered in a miscropically thin layer of gold, which optimizes the segments for reflecting infrared light.
The way this telescope will change our understanding of the very universe we occupy is mind boggling, and I’m sure that we all have more questions. Fortunately, you’ll have a chance to answer them! On December 14, via the NASA Tumblr account, Dr. Naomi Rowe-Gurney, one of the planetary scientists for the telescope, will be answering questions submitted to the NASA Tumblr’s ask box in a live session. Get your questions in before the deadline to learn all you can about the James Webb Space Telescope.
After all, it’s not every day you get to learn the secrets of the universe. Once it’s been launched and settled into orbit, the James Webb will provide us with more than a few.
Liz Carlie (she/her/he/him) is a regular book, TV, and film reviewer for SCIFI.radio and has previously been a guest on ‘The Event Horizon’. In addition to being an active member of the traditional fandom community, she’s also an active participant in online fan culture, pro wrestling journalism, and spreading the gospel of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She resides in Southern California with her aspiring superhero dog, Junior, enjoying life one hyperfixation at a time.