NASA creates microscopic technology for Webb Space Telescope

Jan 24, 2007
NASA creates microscopic technology for Webb Space Telescope
Using a microscope to look at a collection of Microshutters, called an "array" you can see a hair in the picture for a size comparison. Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn

NASA engineers and scientists have created something that will give better information about far away galaxies. This new creation, which will be in a future space telescope, is so tiny that it's the width of a few hairs.

"Microshutters" are tiny doorways that bring stars and galaxies very far away into better focus. This new technology will go aboard the James Webb Space Telescope, to be launched into space in a decade.

The microshutters will enable scientists to block unwanted light from objects closer to the camera in space, letting the light from faraway objects shine through. To get an idea of how these tiny little "hairlike" shutters work, think about how you try to make something look clearer – you squint. By squinting, your eyelashes block out light closer to you. That's similar to how the microshutters work.

These microshutters will allow the telescope to focus on the faint light of stars and galaxies so far away, they formed early in the history of the universe. That's because light travels at 186,000 miles per second, and light is still traveling through space from the time the universe started. No other telescope has this microshutter technology.

The Webb Telescope will take over for the Hubble Space Telescope. It is planned for launch in the next decade.

New technology always gets tested and re-tested to make sure it's ready to go on a spacecraft. In December 2006, the microshutters passed important tests that showed they can handle the stresses of being launched and placed in deep space.

The microshutters were designed, built and tested at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. They will work with a camera scheduled to be onboard the telescope called the "Near Infrared Spectrograph," which will be built by the European Space Agency. The spectrograph will break up the light from the galaxies into a rainbow of different colors, allowing scientists to determine the kinds of stars and gasses that make up the galaxies and measure their distances and motions.

"To build a telescope that can peer farther than Hubble can, we needed brand new technology," said Murzy Jhabvala, chief engineer of Goddard's Instrument Technology and Systems Division. "We've worked on this design for over six years, opening and closing the tiny shutters tens of thousands of times in order to perfect the technology."

Each shutter measures 100 by 200 microns, or about the width of three to six human hairs. These tiny shutters are arranged in a waffle-like grid containing over 62,000 shutters. The telescope will contain four of these waffle-looking grids all put together. They also have to work at the incredibly cold temperature of minus 388 degrees Fahrenheit (-233 degrees Celsius).

The big benefit of the microshutters is that they will allow scientists to look at 100 things in space at the same time and see deeper into space in less time.

"The microshutters are a remarkable engineering feat that will have applications both in space and on the ground, even outside of astronomy in biotechnology, medicine and communications," said Harvey Moseley, the Microshutter Principal Investigator.

Source: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Explore further: Lawsuits challenge US drone, model aircraft rules

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Supernova seen in two lights

13 hours ago

(Phys.org) —The destructive results of a mighty supernova explosion reveal themselves in a delicate blend of infrared and X-ray light, as seen in this image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and Chandra ...

Why NASA studies the ultraviolet sun

Aug 21, 2014

(Phys.org) —You cannot look at the sun without special filters, and the naked eye cannot perceive certain wavelengths of sunlight. Solar physicists must consequently rely on spacecraft that can observe ...

Swirling electrons in the whirlpool galaxy

Aug 20, 2014

The whirlpool galaxy Messier 51 (M51) is seen from a distance of approximately 30 million light years. This galaxy appears almost face-on and displays a beautiful system of spiral arms.

Exoplanet measured with remarkable precision

Aug 19, 2014

Barely 30 years ago, the only planets astronomers had found were located right here in our own solar system. The Milky Way is chock-full of stars, millions of them similar to our own sun. Yet the tally ...

The future of CubeSats

Aug 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —To investigate climate change, scientists and engineers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center are developing the IceCube satellite, which will be no larger than a loaf of bread. In 2016, this ...

Recommended for you

Lawsuits challenge US drone, model aircraft rules

10 hours ago

Model aircraft hobbyists, research universities and commercial drone interests filed lawsuits Friday challenging a government directive that they say imposes tough new limits on the use of model aircraft ...

For secure software: X-rays instead of passport control

Aug 21, 2014

Trust is good, control is better. This also applies to the security of computer programs. Instead of trusting "identification documents" in the form of certificates, JOANA, the new software analysis tool, examines the source ...

Razor-sharp TV pictures

Aug 21, 2014

The future of movie, sports and concert broadcasting lies in 4K definition, which will bring cinema quality TV viewing into people's homes. 4K Ultra HD has four times as many pixels as today's Full HD. And ...

User comments : 0