NASA completes deployment of the world's most powerful space telescope

NASA

NASA's new space telescope has deployed its huge, gold-plated, flower-like mirror, the final step in fully opening the dramatic observatory.

Scientists in the flight control room were able to install the last part of the 6.5-meter-high mirror in place, completing the deployment of the James Webb Space Telescope.

"I'm very happy about that. What an amazing achievement, to see this beautiful figure in the sky now,"

 said Thomas Zurbuchen, chief of science missions at NASA.

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The Webb Telescope, more powerful than the $10 billion Hubble telescope, will scan the universe for light streaming from the first stars and galaxies that formed 13.7 billion years ago. 

To achieve this, NASA had to outfit Webb with the largest and most sensitive mirror ever launched into space - his "golden eye", as scientists call it.

The Webb Telescope is so big that it had to be folded like origami to fit the rocket launched from South America two weeks ago.

The most dangerous operation took place earlier this week, when a sun shield the size of a tennis court was deployed to provide sub-zero shade for mirrors and infrared detectors.

Flight controllers in Baltimore began opening the primary mirror on Friday, opening the table-style left side with flaps. 

Saturday's mood of optimism filled the control room as the right side settled into place.

The mirror is made of beryllium, a lightweight, strong and cold-resistant metal. Each of its 18 parts is covered with a very thin layer of gold, reflecting infrared rays. 

The hexagons, each the size of a coffee table, must be modified in the coming days and weeks so they can focus on new stars, galaxies and worlds that might bear signs of atmospheric life.

Webb is expected to reach his destination, 1.6 million kilometers away, within another two weeks. 

And if all goes as planned, scientific note-taking will begin this summer. Astronomers hope to study the 100 million years of the universe's formation after the Big Bang, better than Hubble did.

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