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Building a camera to capture light from the distant past


Image: Hubble Telescope, C. Robert O'Dell and Kerry P. Handron (Rice University), NASA.

Hubble has seen far. The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) scheduled for launch in 2013 will see farther.

The Guardian reports,

At a lab in Oxfordshire, British scientists are in the final stages of building the most expensive camera this country has ever seen. It is no ordinary instrument: when it begins operating later this year, the £20m device will be the prototype for the main camera on the successor to the Hubble space telescope.

In the coming months, the Mid-range Infrared Instrument (Miri) will go through tests to prepare for a mission to find the faint light from the very first stars that formed. . .Miri will be the centrepiece for the 6.5-tonne James Webb space telescope, the next in the series of great observatories. . .Miri, Britain's main contribution to the project, will allow James Webb to probe far more deeply into the universe than Hubble ever could.

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is a large, infrared space telescope that will "find the first galaxies that formed in the early Universe. . .and peer through dusty clouds to see stars forming planetary systems". It's part of an international partnership with NASA, Britain (for the European Space Agency) and Canada. (The ESA bears a closer look. What exactly is it contributing?)

According to NASA, JWST will have a large mirror, 21.3 feet in diameter and a sunshield the size of a tennis court, and will orbit about 1 million miles from the Earth.

James Webb was the NASA director who helped to make President John F. Kennedy's call for a moon landing a reality.