NASA's mirror to peer into the past and reveal how first galaxies formed

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Washington, January 8 (ANI): NASA is developing a primary mirror, 21.3 feet in diameter, for use on the James Webb Space Telescope to look into the past and tell us about our beginning in the universe and how the first galaxies formed.

The primary mirror will serve as the telescope's eye and peer through dusty clouds to see stars forming planetary systems, connecting the Milky Way to our own Solar System.

Six of the 18 Webb telescope mirror segments are planned be moved into the X-ray and Cryogenic Facility, or XRCF, at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, to eventually experience temperatures dipping to a chilling -414 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure they can withstand the extreme space environments.

When the primary mirror is assembled in space, it will include three different shapes of mirror segments: 6 are "A" segments, 6 are "B" segments and 6 are "C" segments.

This upcoming test in the XRCF will collect data from all three sizes - A, B and C - a first for these in the cryogenic facility.

This test will also include the engineering development unit, the first primary mirror segment of the Webb telescope that has met flight specifications at ambient temperatures.

"By the time testing in the XRCF concludes in 2011, all 18 flight segments will have been through multiple measurements while experiencing the extreme temperatures of space," said Helen J. Cole, James Webb Space Telescope Activities Project Manager at NASA Marshall.

"This process has been six years in the making and we're excited that we can support the Webb telescope development with our world class cryogenic test facility," she added.

As this cooling takes place, engineers will measure in extreme detail how the shapes of the mirrors change, simulating how they'll react to space temperatures.

"This is a tremendously important milestone to the Webb Telescope project that bodes well for both our future mirror manufacturing schedule and for the potential performance capabilities of the telescope," said Lee Feinberg, James Webb Space Telescope Optical Telescope Element Manager at NASA Goddard.

The James Webb Space Telescope is the next-generation premier space observatory, exploring deep space phenomena from distant galaxies to nearby planets and stars.

Webb will give scientists clues about the formation of the universe and the evolution of our own solar system, from the first light after the Big Bang to the formation of star systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth. (ANI)

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