Utah researchers work on James Webb Telescope, plan to use it

Dec 27, 2021, 7:19 PM | Updated: Dec 28, 2021, 12:24 pm

LOGAN, Utah — The James Webb telescope launched just a few days ago and some Utah researchers played a role in bringing it to reality and signed up for research time on it.

Researchers at Utah State University spent about five years studying different types of mirrors and composites inside a high-tech vacuum chamber that exposed them to different charges and light sources.

Now that the telescope is off in space it’s time to wait for the real excitement when astronomers get to see if the $10 billion telescope works.

“It’s just going to blow people’s minds,” said J.R. Dennison, who worked with about 30 researchers at USU over the past five years to study different types of mirrors and composites to be used for the telescope.

They had to make sure the telescope stays cold, about 40 degrees kelvin. “Which is, I think, minus 380 degrees Fahrenheit,” Dennison said.

The super-cold temperatures are needed because any heat given off could interfere with the infrared light that the Webb Telescope will be taking in from deep space.

Dennison and his team used a high-tech vacuum chamber to test the materials where they could shoot ions and electrons at them, among other tests.

“And then we measure currents and energies and so on, coming off the samples to determine how they charge up, what kind of things get, get given off,” Dennison explained.

James Webb Telescope rocket launch (NASA) James Webb Telescope illustration (NASA) The vacuum chamber at USU. (KSL TV)

Now that their work is done, it’s time for others to do the really exciting stuff.

“There are these big black holes, like the one at the center of our Milky Way Galaxy,” said Dr. Anil Seth.

The University of Utah researcher is one of just over 250 researchers selected to use the telescope. He will study black holes.

“So, four million times the size of the sun. It’s a black hole sitting at the center of our galaxy and we don’t know how it got there,” Seth said.

Right now, he’s crossing his fingers that the Webb works as planned. Hopefully showing us far beyond what we’ve seen with the Hubble telescope.

“Definitely if it all does work, it’s going to be really amazing.”

There is now a 29 day wait for the Webb to get to its destination, about 930,000 miles away, towards Mars.

Then it will be time to cross your fingers and hope that the nearly 180 release mechanisms fold out correctly.

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Utah researchers work on James Webb Telescope, plan to use it