The telescope’s four scientific instruments are grouped together in a metal frame the size of a dishwasher leaning against the main mirror.
Canada is providing this mission with one of these instruments, the NIRISS, as well as the telescope’s precision guidance detector (FGS), which plays a central role in all observations made with the telescope.
We are at the very heart of the machine with the FGS. It is an exceptional contribution from Canada. It’s rare for NASA to trust an external partner to deliver something as critical as the FGS, notes Martin Bergeron.
This tool makes it possible to determine the position of the celestial objects studied. It can follow moving targets, remain stable, and point to a particular target with pinpoint accuracy.
It is an infrared camera which is relatively simple, but extremely precise. If you want, all the observations and discoveries that will be made by Webb will have been obtained thanks to Canadian eyes., estimates Professor Doyon.
The telescope, due to its size and many components, is not an extremely stable structure. The role of the FGS is to absorb all the vibrations that would prevent clear images from being obtained.
If the telescope vibrates at all, the images you get would be blurry. We don’t want that. Obviously, we will have the finest images that the telescope can give us. This is what the FGS allows, he adds.
whenever Webb goes to point a celestial object, he will transmit the information to the telescope’s control motor to keep it pointed with pinpoint accuracy. We are talking about a millionth of a degree here. The idea is to stay long and precisely fixed on a point in the sky to accumulate as much light as possible., explains Mr. Bergeron.
The other Canadian contribution is the NIRISS instrument (for near infrared slitless imager and spectrograph).
It makes it possible to study the most distant celestial objects in our Universe, but its spectroscopic sensitivity in the infrared will also allow it to study exoplanets as small as the Earth and their fine atmospheres.
An even greater success for the Canadian team would be for the NIRISS to determine the composition of one of these atmospheres by detecting the presence of water vapor or CO2, or to potentially see biological markers such as methane. or oxygen.
NIRISS could help humanity detect early clues to the existence of potentially habitable worlds outside of our solar system.
With its infrared-sensitive imager, the NIRISS will capture infrared radiation emitted by objects and gather information on the spectrum of distant planets.
The objective is to know whether or not there is life elsewhere. This will first go through determining whether, on this planet that looks like Earth, there is an atmosphere in which there are markers, biosignatures., argues Olivier Hernandez, of the Rio Tinto Planetarium.
The two Canadian elements were designed for the Canadian Space Agency by the company Honeywell. Infrared instrumentation experts from UdeM and the National Research Council of Canada participated in the making of the instruments.
The Université de Montréal’s contribution was to design the optical elements and test them in our laboratories to verify that they do what we want. […] The mechanisms of Canadian instruments have been qualified so that we can operate for a good ten years, says Mr. Doyon.
NASA is providing the NIRCam, the near infrared device that acts as the telescope’s main imaging system.
The vast majority of images obtained with Webb will be obtained with this camera, explains René Doyon.
The instrument can observe the Universe in two different parts of the near infrared. Thanks to it, it will be possible to capture the deepest (most distant) images ever obtained of the Universe. This instrument will be essential in the detection of light from the first stars and galaxies.
He will also study the formation of very distant galaxies and measure the distortion of light due to dark matter. It will also keep an eye on the stars in nearby galaxies and young stars in our Milky Way. He will observe the stars in our system, including objects in the Kuiper belt.
NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) provide MIRI. It is the only instrument that works in the mid-infrared. Qualified as very versatile, it will allow the observation of solar systems, including ours, but also of the primordial Universe. It will also make it possible to detect the emission of hydrogen and will also participate in the search for the first luminous objects. It will also be used to study different types of stars, such as brown dwarfs and giant planets.
ESA supplies the NIRSpec, the near infrared spectrograph. This tool will study the light of an object in its different wavelengths to determine its composition, density and speed. It allows, among other things, to study the formation of stars and the abundance of chemical elements in young distant galaxies.
These four instruments will work as a team.
They are designed to address the four scientific themes in a complementary way. For example, when NIRCam takes pictures, NIRISS will take spectra of the field of view it is observing. Almost at all times there will be two instruments that are used in parallel, explains Mr. Doyon.
The cost of the mission
NASA estimates its total contribution to the mission at nearly $ 14 billion Canadian.
For its part, the Canadian Space Agency invested approximately $ 178 million between 1998 and 2021 in the design and construction of the two Canadian components, and $ 16.5 million to support Canadian science programs. About 15 million dollars will be added by 2028 to help Canadian scientists who will analyze the data obtained from the observation times with the Webb telescope.
The European contribution amounts to just over one billion Canadian dollars.