NASA's James Webb Space Telescope has concluded its deployment phase on Saturday, unfurling its giant, gold-plated, flower-shaped mirror panel since its launch on Christmas Day.
The final portion of the 6.5-meter (21-foot) mirror unfolded at ground control's command, as it prepares to study the earliest days of the universe, and search for exoplanets, Al Jazeera reported.
Webb Space Telescope Trains 'Golden Eye' to Capture Light from Universe's First Stars, Galaxies
The $10 billion Webb, which is more powerful than the 31-year-old Hubble Space Telescope, is designed to explore the cosmos for light emanating from the first stars and galaxies formed 13.7 billion years ago. To achieve this, NASA placed the largest and most sensitive mirror on the Webb, which scientists call the "Golden Eye."
The new space telescope is so enormous that it had to be folded origami-style to fit in the rocket that launched two weeks ago, Associated Press noted in a report. What proved to be the riskiest phase of the deployment was when the sunshield the size of a tennis court unfolded, offering subzero cover for its mirror and infrared detectors.
Engineers from the Space Telescope Institute in Baltimore, Maryland cheered on when NASA announced the completed deployment on Twitter.
NASA Engineers Ecstatic, Emotional Over Completion of Webb Deployment Phase
NASA engineer Thomas Zurbuchen said in an Al Jazeera report that he turned "emotional" upon learning that the deployment phase was completed, adding it was "an amazing milestone."
Flight controllers started unfolding the primary mirror on Friday, opening the left side similar to a drop-leaf table. The next day, the controllers had the telescope's right side into place. And, when everything latched into place with the telescope's unfurling completed two and a half hours later, the team jumped for joy, exchanged high-fives and fist bumps, cheering on as the milestone was reached.
The James Webb Space Telescope's unfolding had been a difficult task as part of the most daunting project in its kind for NASA.
It lifted off on Christmas Day from the French Guiana en route to its orbital point, which is 1.5 million kilometers (1 million miles) from Earth. It will then reach its destination in space, an area called the Second Lagrange point, in the coming weeks. In total, the Webb needs five and half months more of setup time before it officially starts its exploration.
Next steps in completing its entire setup cycle include the alignment of the Webb's optics and calibrating its scientific instruments.
The telescope's mirror was crafted from beryllium, a strong yet lightweight, cold-resistant metal. The mirror has 18 segments that are coated with an ultra-thin layer of gold, which could efficiently reflect infrared light. These hexagon-shaped segments will be configured in the coming days so they can be trained on stars, galaxies and alien worlds that could offer atmospheric signs of life.
Visible and ultraviolet light originating from the cosmos' first luminous objects had been stretched as a result of the universe's expansion. This light arrives in our part of space as infrared, which the Webb Space Telescope can capture with incredible clarity. As such, it will provide scientists and astronomers unprecedented insight on the origins of the universe.
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