The new James Webb telescope is about to take off, scheduled for December 22 from French Guiana, with the mission of lifting the veil on the conditions likely to shelter life outside our solar system.
The fruit of a joint program by the American (NASA), European (ESA) and Canadian (ASC) space agencies, Webb, the most powerful of orbiting observatories, whose ultimate objective is to examine exoplanets more closely, will study also the formation of stars and will measure the composition of the atmosphere of planets around other stars.
The first observed exoplanet, 51 Pegasi b, was discovered in 1995 and since then some 5,000 more have been identified, from gas giants similar to Jupiter or Neptune, in our solar system, to rocky planets like Earth.
However, apart from the fact that they are neither too close nor too far from the stars around which they orbit, little is known about these planets and their composition.
Equipped with a new technology called MIRI (Mid-Infrared Instrument), NASA’s new telescope will use a camera and spectrograph to observe light in the mid-infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum, invisible to the human eye. , in the hope of filling in the gaps of the astrophysicists in the matter.
This is because the Webb Telescope is designed to see light that has traveled for hundreds of millions of years, longer than visible starlight, including fainter ones. He will travel back billions of years in time to observe the early formation of molecular hydrogen from an empty, formless universe.
Other instruments on board the telescope will allow it to scan intergalactic dust clouds and analyze the makeup of planets in distant solar systems.
Principal partner, NASA developed the Webb space bus, the heat shield and the telescope itself, the largest ever sent to space. The Americans were also responsible for part of Webb’s infrared instrument package, while ESA launched an Ariane 5 rocket and provided other pieces of the instruments to collect tons of data on the cosmos.
For its part, Canada provided parts of instruments and a guidance sensor to keep Webb well oriented on his celestial targets.
Originally designed in the 1990s with a budget of $ 500 million, the Webb Telescope, which has withstood threats of abandonment at times when the complexity of the mission added years and billions to the accounts, remains a daring adventure with enormous scientific promises.
Like the Perseverance rover that landed on Mars earlier this year, the Webb telescope calls on the ingenuity of the scientific community to boldly go where humans cannot survive. These astonishing machines thus extend the senses and especially the brains beyond the low Earth orbits where astronauts have been blocked since the dawn of space exploration and risk remaining so in the near future, if not forever.