Webb space telescope main mirror unfolded

NASA’s new space telescope opened its massive gold-plated mirror on Saturday, the latest step in the observatory’s dramatic display.

The final portion of the 6.5-meter (21-foot) mirror was extended at the command of flight controllers, completing the deployment of the James Webb Space Telescope.

“I feel emotional. What an amazing milestone. Now we see that beautiful pattern in the sky, ”said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s chief of science missions.

More powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope, the $ 10 billion Webb will scan the cosmos for light from the first stars and galaxies formed 13.7 billion years ago. To achieve this, NASA had to equip the Webb with the largest and most sensitive mirror ever launched: its “golden eye,” as scientists call it.

The Webb is so large that it had to be folded into origami to fit on the rocket that took off from South America two weeks ago. The riskiest operation occurred this week, when the massive sun shield was deployed, providing a shadow for the mirror and infrared detectors.

Flight controllers in Baltimore began opening the main mirror on Friday, unfolding the left side. The mood was even more upbeat on Saturday, with music filling the control room as the right side was secured in place. After applauding, the controllers immediately returned to work, putting everything together. They got up and cheered when the operation was finally completed two hours later.

“We have a telescope deployed in orbit, a magnificent telescope like nothing the world has seen,” said Zurbuchen, congratulating the team. “How does it feel to make history?”

His European Space Agency counterpart, astronomer Antonella Nota, noted that after years of preparation, the team made everything “seem so amazingly easy.”

“This is the moment we’ve been waiting so long for,” he said.