Divided world unites to launch James Webb Space Telescope

America was a divided nation, but that didn’t stop it from building parts of the James Webb Space Telescope in a red state and test the...


America was a divided nation, but that didn’t stop it from building parts of the James Webb Space Telescope in a red state and test them in a blue.

The European Union and Russia were against Ukraine and other questions this year, but scientists on both sides will benefit greatly from the discoveries that may soon be at hand.

And while the pandemic scolded supply chains around the world, no lockdown could derail the telescope’s trajectory to the stars: Parts were assembled in several countries, then tested in the United States, and the end product ended up on a launch pad in French Guiana before being projected into space on Christmas Day.

In some ways, the James Webb Space Telescope told a story rarely heard these days: the story of nations coming together for a common ambition. At a time when countries are dividing climate change, migration and one disease that killed millions, the spacecraft – launched to search for habitable planets and to search for the oldest and most distant stars and galaxies – was a powerful reminder that international cooperation on large-scale projects was still possible.

“I like to think of science as a way to moderate some of the extreme situations we have on this planet,” said Martin Barstow, professor of astrophysics and space science at the University of Leicester in England, who oversaw telescope mission control. center. “And I have always seen space as an area where we cooperate, through all difficult times.”

However, cooperation also comes with competition. China, which did not participate in the project, intends to launch his own space telescope supposed to be some kind of competitor. China was also team up with Russia on his own missions as the russian-american space alliance is under strain due to political tensions between countries.

Yet the design and launch of the telescope, which spanned more than 30 years, required not only the cooperation of scientists around the world, but also the sharing of the $ 10 billion cost, which was largely covered by states. -United. Unlike the Perseverance to Mars rover, a predominantly American venture launched last year and overseen by NASA, the James Webb Space Telescope was a joint venture of NASA, the Canadian Space Agency and the European Space Agency – the largest and most expensive space observatory ever built.

Even though upheavals on both sides of the Atlantic changed the political landscape, none of this affected the telescope project. The work has transcended the rise of Donald J. Trump in the United States, Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, and the growing popularity of nationalist movements in Europe, many whose adherents have questioned the science of vaccines.

When the pandemic imposed travel bans around the world, German scientists had to find a way to remotely test parts of the telescope that was in Redondo Beach, California.

“I was coming to Los Angeles frequently and suddenly you couldn’t do that anymore,” said Oliver Krause of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany, which is working on the successor to the Webb telescope, which is already underway in California. He said teams had spent weeks designing workarounds.

Mr. Krause’s own contributions were key pieces of the engineering puzzle – the wheels that allow the mid-infrared camera and the telescope’s spectrograph to switch between different modes. His team in Heidelberg, Germany was chosen to build them because of their long expertise in the moving parts of telescopes.

“This is the key because if the wheel gets stuck in an intermediate position you suddenly won’t have any light coming in,” he said, praising German engineering. Other parts of the telescope, like its lens hood, were built in places like Huntsville, Ala.

Just as parts of the telescope have crossed borders and political divisions, so have experts like Sarah Kendrew, a European Space Agency instrument and calibration specialist and astronomer.

Ms. Kendrew helped create one of the telescope’s key components, the mid-infrared instrument, or MIRI. The device is able to detect light from the mid-infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum – invisible to the naked eye – and can reveal faint galaxies, forming stars, and planets orbiting other stars. , called exoplanets.

Ms. Kendrew’s work on MIRI began during a postdoctoral fellowship in the Netherlands in 2008. She then moved to Germany, where the instrument was tested, and to Great Britain, continuing her work on MIRI and d ‘other astronomical instruments. Finally, in 2016, it moved to Baltimore, which became the telescope’s mission control center.

“Science is one of those areas where you have to learn to work across borders and political divisions,” she said shortly after returning from Kourou, French Guiana, a French territory of France. South America where she witnessed the take off of the telescope.

There seemed to be something hopeful about the launch itself, coming at the end of an extremely difficult year in a world desperate for good news. Watched in many countries, it was reminiscent of the opening of the International Space Station two decades ago, or the first Apollo missions to the moon, when people tune in to see the space race unfold. unfold around the globe.

“People all over the world watched the launch of James Webb,” said Michaël Gillon, a Belgian astrophysicist involved in the project. “Even if they’re in China or North Korea, it’s something that interests them. And the possibility of discovery interests people regardless of their religion or political system.

While scientists will turn to the telescope to answer a myriad of questions about the universe, the one that has generated the most enthusiasm is something humanity has long wondered: will there be others who will watch us from the stars?

Mr. Gillon, who is looking for signs of life on other planets, is the team that may one day come back with an answer.

Using previous telescopes, Gillon discovered seven Earth-sized planets in the Trappist-1 star system in the constellation Aquarius. He named each after one of his favorite beers.

“We wanted to give a Belgian flavor to the project,” he joked.

In order to fully study Trappist-1, he organized a consortium of more than 100 scientists, including scientists from Morocco, Japan and the Netherlands, and pooled their resources to jointly research the star system.

“We might even be able to detect traces of biological activity, which is really the holy grail of the field,” Gillon said.

The astronomer thought for a moment about the potential effect of discovering life in the cosmos at a time when climate change and disease seem to threaten our collective future.

“It wouldn’t solve all of our problems,” he admitted. “I still think it’s something that would bring magic and the feeling of being human.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Divided world unites to launch James Webb Space Telescope
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