August 15, 2012

James Webb Telescope Receives Second New Instrument

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

NASA said it has received the second of four main instruments for its James Webb Space Telescope, the successor of the Hubble Space Telescope.

The Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS) will help enable the James Webb to accurately point at the correct objects for it to observe. It is packaged together as a single unit with the Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS) science instrument.

The instrument arrived on July 30 at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. NASA said it has been undergoing inspection before post-delivery testing and then integration into the telescope's science instrument payload.

"This is an exciting event," said Scott Lambros, Webb telescope Instrument Systems Manager at NASA Goddard. "The FGS instrument is part of the integrated control system that performs the extremely fine pointing and stability needed for the Observatory; while the NIRISS instrument will provide great science and new discovery space."

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) developed the Webb's FGS and the Near-Infrared Imager and Stiless Spectrograph. The FGS will allow Webb to study stars and planets forming in other stellar systems.

"Imagine the challenge at hand here: design and deliver technology capable of unprecedented levels of precision to conduct breakthrough science on board the largest, most complex and most powerful telescope ever built," Steve MacLean, President of the CSA, Longueil, Quebec, Canada, said in a press release.

The FGS consists of two identical cameras that will help the future telescope "see." Their images will allow Webb to determine its position, locate its targets, and remain pointed to collect data.

The FGS will guide the telescope with an accuracy of one-millionth of a degree of angle, according to NASA.

NIRISS will provide unique capabilities for the telescope as well, helping to find the earliest and most distant objects in the Universe's history. It will look through the glare of nearby young stars to unveil new Jupiter-like exoplanets.

This instrument will have the ability to detect the thin atmosphere of small, habitable planets, and determine its chemical composition to see water vapor, carbon dioxide and other potential biomarkers like methane and oxygen.

Webb is the most powerful telescope ever built, and will be the successor of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. The new telescope's four instruments will reveal how the universe evolved from the Big Bang to formation of our solar system.