NASA prepares to launch the most powerful telescope ever built

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The launch of the , NASA’s premier observatory of the next decade, is scheduled for December 18 from French Guiana. The telescope comes equipped with a mirror that can extend 21 feet and 4 inches (6.5 meters), nearly 60 times larger than previous space telescopes. It includes 18 hexagonal gold-coated segments, each 4.3 feet (1.32 meters) in diameter. Webb will act as an infrared detective, detecting light that is invisible to use and revealing otherwise hidden regions of space, according to NASA. The concept for the telescope was first imagined as a successor to Hubble at a workshop in 1989. Its construction began in 2004 with participation of thousands of scientists, technicians and engineers from 14 countries. The telescope will answer questions about our own solar system and will investigate faint signals from the first galaxies formed 13.5 billion years ago. The goal is to find more about planets, black holes, galaxies, stars and the structure of the universe itself.

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One of the planned targets for Webb is TRAPPIST-1e, which could support liquid water on its surface. The telescope will take a closer look at a selection of exoplanets to peer inside their atmospheres, if they have them, and help answer questions about how the planets formed and evolved. It will also observe the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. After launch, the observatory will travel for about a month until it reaches an orbit about 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometers) away from Earth. Then it will go through a period of commissioning in space that lasts for six months, which involves cooling down the instruments, alignment and calibration. It will begin to collect data and its first images later in 2022.