The Boss's Dog
Sapiens keep looking ... and we dogs just look.
Like most four-legged creatures, half my life is spent under the night sky and, when it’s clear, it’s worth looking at.
The Boss keeps reminding me that we have a lucky window to it: the southern sky is by far the richest half, our view unimpeded by bright city lights.
The shifting constellations have filled dogs and sapiens with wonder for thousands of years and, despite all the advances in science, we still don’t know exactly how it started, how big and old it is — or if there is an end to it.
That doesn’t stop people trying to look further into deep space, hence the fuss about NASA’s first images from the James Webb Telescope in recent weeks.
It has taken 25 years of work to get there, The Boss says – the Webb was designed to succeed the Hubble telescope with an improved peep into the heavens. It is around 100 times more powerful than the Hubble, which The Boss reckons has performed superbly for three decades now.
With a sun-shield the size of a tennis court, the only way the huge Webb telescope assembly could be fired into space was to be folded up like an umbrella, in the hope it could be unfolded once it reached its orbit a million miles out — that’s about four times the distance from me to the moon.
And that all happened on Christmas Day 18 months ago, when the Webb was launched from a launchpad in French Guiana, on the north-east coast of South America. It’s centrepiece is a mirror 21 feet across — three times the size of the Hubble mirror — which had to then be unfolded on top of the tennis court-sized foil sun-shield.
What could possibly go wrong? It was a risky venture and they asked that at the time. It was said more than 10,000 people had worked on the Webb’s development, starting in 1995. They wanted the Webb to operate in the infrared part of the spectrum, which can penetrate the dust of the cosmos.
It is so sensitive it can study the oldest light of the universe, when galaxies were first forming. The oldest light in the universe is all in the infrared portion, The Boss says, so the Webb telescope should be able to peer back close to 13 billion years. The ultimate objective is to penetrate the era of first light — a transitional period, less than 300 million years after the big bang, when the expanding, cooling universe was illuminated by the first stars. So they say.
In the end, getting the Webb up there cost around $10 billion, which rather exceeded its original estimate of $500 million. The European and Canadian space agencies assisted NASA with the project, as have thousands of amateur astronomers, so there’s plenty of people keen to see it succeed.
That’s explains the fuss, The Boss says: despite what NASA originally described as “344 potential single-point failures” the launch and deployment has gone off much better than The Boss’s effort to re-form the veggie garden.
NASA has a section for the James Webb Telescope on its website and you can see its first images and explanations there. I liked this picture that the Boss showed me of the Southern Ring Nebula, about 290 light years away, formed by a star collapsing in its death throes. Have you ever seen anything prettier? Woof!