Boffins at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies have played a key role in developing a ground-breaking telescope that will be launched into space on Christmas Day.
NASA, the European Space Agency and Canadian Space Agency joined forces for the project to replace NASA’s current eye in the sky – the Hubble telescope.
Irish scientists Professor Tom Ray and Dr Patrick Kavanagh helped with the infrared on the new James Webb Space Telescope, which will succeed Hubble on NASA’s flagship astrophysics mission.
The JWST is the biggest and most powerful space telescope ever built and is scheduled to launch from Guiana Space Centre at 12.20pm (GMT) on Christmas Day.
Over the course of its 10-year mission, the telescope will collect more light than any other telescope, looking deeper into space to see the earliest stars, planets and galaxies in the universe, and study how they were formed.
Tom Ray is a Senior Professor and Director of Cosmic Physics at DIAS, and Co-Principal Investigator for the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) – one of four instruments on the Webb Telescope.
He said: “Irish research has played a vital role in the development of the James Webb Space Telescope which will transform our knowledge of the universe.
“The observations this telescope will collect will help scientists answer some of the big questions about the cosmos. Such as, what did the early universe look like, how did the first galaxies evolve and how and where do stars and planets form?
“It is a really exciting project to be involved in, and over the coming months and years as the Webb telescope journeys through space I look forward to the findings and surprises it will bring us.
“I’ve no doubt that it will have a truly transformational effect on astronomy, and it is testament to the platform DIAS holds on the international stage in astronomy and astrophysics that we have such strong Irish involvement in this project.”
MIRI is a camera and a spectrograph that observes mid to long infrared radiation. It also has a coronagraph (a specialised instrument designed to block out the light of a star), especially for observing exoplanets. MIRI will be key in enabling the telescope to study the universe with an unprecedented level of detail.
Dr Patrick Kavanagh, also from DIAS, is a member of the international MIRI team.
He will participate in commissioning the instrument at the Webb Mission Operations Centre in Baltimore, early in the new year.
His work also involves analysing and interpreting data that will be collected by the Webb Telescope.
You can watch the telescope’s launch live at https://www.esa.int/ESA_Multimedia/ESA_Web_TV
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