Quirks & Quarks

NASA's 10 billion dollar space telescope is finally going to launch — with CanCon

Canadian astronomers get front row seats to the James Webb Space Telescope thanks to the contribution of two key instruments.

Canadian astronomers get front row seats to the James Webb Space Telescope

Artist conception of the James Webb Space Telescope. A tennis-court-sized shield will keep the extremely sensitive infrared detection instruments out of sun's rays. (ASA GSFC/CIL/Adriana Manrique Gutierrez)

After nearly two decades of halting development, frustrating technical and budgetary setbacks, the James Webb Space Telescope is finally set to launch.

If all goes as planned, on December 22nd the largest telescope ever built will ride an Ariane 5 rocket into space, where it will unfurl to give us an eye on the universe like we've never seen before.  

It'll be 1.5 million kilometres from Earth where it will get an unobstructed view of the cosmos. 

The James Webb Space Telescope stands at The Guiana Space Centre, Kourou, French Guiana on November 5, 2021, where it is being tested and verified ahead of its launch. (Jody Amiet/AFP via Getty Images)

Sarah Gallagher, a professor of physics and astronomy at Western University and the scientific advisor for the president of the Canadian Space Agency, said Canada contributed two key instruments to the telescope. 

The first, a fine guidance system, will help the telescope lock on to different astronomical objects. The other —  a scientific instrument — will use infrared wavelengths to capture images that can penetrate dust and gas to see the light that lies beyond. 

By studying the light that passes through the atmospheres of planets in other solar systems as they pass in front of their star, scientists should be able to detect the signatures of life.

Gallagher told Quirks & Quarks host, Bob McDonald, she's personally most excited to look at the galaxies around supermassive black holes, and to find things we never expected.


Produced and written by Sonya Buyting. Click on the link at the top of the page to hear the interview with Prof. Sarah Gallagher.

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