A full-scale model of the world’s most powerful space telescope was in New York City last week as part of the World Science Festival. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, when launched in 2014, will allow scientists to “see” the very first galaxies formed in the Universe and discover hidden worlds around distant stars. For the past six days, a full-scale model of this successor to the Hubble Space Telescope was on public view in Battery Park, on the tip of Manhattan. It was as close to a first-hand look at the telescope as most people will ever get, so on Friday we drove down for a gander.
In addition, we drove down because we didn’t want to miss the “From the City to the Stars” party. The anchor of the event was the spectacularly lit Webb telescope model. Leading scientists were on hand to talk to everyone about the design of the telescope, the challenges, and the anticipated discoveries.
The James Webb Space Telescope is the next-generation space observatory, exploring deep space phenomena from distant galaxies to nearby planets and stars. The telescope will give scientists clues about the formation of the universe and the evolution of our own solar system, from the first light after the Big Bang to the formation of star systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth.
“The World Science Festival is a great opportunity for people to get a look at, and learn more about, the future of astronomy from space,” said Eric Smith, NASA’s Webb Program Scientist. “The Webb telescope full scale model dramatically highlights how far the next generation of space telescopes will be from its predecessors. It’s unlike any telescope you’ve ever seen.”
The actual-size model was highly detailed. It was constructed mainly of aluminum and steel, weighs 12,000 pounds, is approximately 80 feet long, 40 feet wide and 40 feet tall. It is as large as a tennis court. The model required two trucks to ship it and assembly took a crew of 12 approximately four days. The model was lit from its base so that night-time viewers could take in all the details. The full-scale model of the James Webb Space Telescope was built by the prime contractor, Northrop Grumman, to provide a better understanding of the size, scale and complexity of this satellite.
Once we took in the awe-inspiring sight of the James Webb telescope, we wandered around and played with interactive exhibits, watched videos about the Webb scope, and asked scientists on hand about how the telescope works. The program was made possible with the support of Northrop Grumman, and presented in collaboration with The Battery Conservancy.
With the organizational efforts of Bob Moore of the Rockland Astronomy Club and others, the star party had a huge turnout. The evening was awesome for amateur astronomers and novices alike. Many folks brought their telescopes, shared their passion, and a lucky few even managed to get a glimpse of Mars, Saturn, and Venus as all were in the sky at the same time that evening. Even though the cloud cover hindered the viewing for most of the time, it was still a festive evening of marveling at the wonders of the cosmos.