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 reality in 2018 when an Ariane rocket launches the James Webb space telescope on its tour of discovery through space.
The first stars emerged from the slowly cooling gases of the Big Bang more than 10 billion years ago. They are usually very far from the earth and in the red end of the light spectrum. The higher the red shift of an astronomical object, the longer the light it emitted has been underway and the farther back in time we are seeing it. Making the light of stars visible to the human eye is therefore technically very challenging. Carl Zeiss, EADS Astrium and the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy developed the NIRSpec and MIRI instruments for the near and middle infrared range to make stars visible. Carl Zeiss is delivering filter and grating changer mechanisms — the heart of both instruments for the James Webb space telescope. They enable the removal of specific wavelengths and dispersion of light into tiny spectral ranges.
Furthermore, the instruments must withstand severe conditions in space. During launch they are subject to extreme vibrations and acceleration before they reach their workplace and are cooled to nearly absolute zero (-273°C) to ensure that the thermal radiation from the telescope does not block the infrared radiation from the first stars. Several enlightening insights on the first stars are expected in 2018.
May 4, 2011