James Webb Space Telescope (NASA)

Image: NASA

Did You Know…

…that You Have to Wait Until 2018 To See the Very First Stars?

Just imagine what it would be like to see the beginnings of our universe, to witness the birth of the first galaxies and stars. This dream will become a reality in 2018 when an Ariane rocket carrying the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) launches on its tour of discovery into space.

The first stars emerged from the slowly cooling fireball of the Big Bang more than 10 billion years ago. They are usually very far from the earth and at the red end of the light spectrum. The higher the red shift of an astronomical object, the longer the light it emitted has been traveling and thus the farther back in time we are seeing it. Making the light of stars perceptible to the human eye is technically very challenging. ZEISS, EADS Astrium, and the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy are therefore developing the NIRSpec and MIRI instruments for the near and mid-infrared range to make the stars visible. ZEISS is delivering so-called filter and grating changer mechanisms – the heart of both instruments in the JWST. They make it possible to filter out specific wavelengths and disperse light into very small spectral ranges.

In addition, these space instruments have to be able to withstand severe stress factors. During launch, they are subjected to extreme vibrations and acceleration before reaching their “laboratory,” where they will be cooled down to nearly absolute zero (-273°C) to ensure that the thermal radiation from the telescope does not interfere with the infrared radiation from the first stars. In 2018 there will surely be some enlightening information available about the first stars.

3 May 2011