The next generation space telescope following the Hubble needs squeaky clean mirrors. Engineers use snow like car owners clean their mirrors in winter.
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), is a space observatory under construction by NASA with its partners, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency and scheduled to launch in October 2018. Today NASA shared how engineers are cleaning the mirrors of the Webb telescope. The mirrors need to be absolutely clean to make the telescope work correctly.
Engineers from Exelis are using snow to clean the mirrors. By shooting carbon dioxide snow at the surface they are able to clean large telescope mirrors without scratching them. The technique takes inspiration from car owners using snow to clean side mirrors.
"The snow-like crystals (carbon dioxide snow) knock contaminate particulates and molecules off the mirror," said Lee Feinberg, NASA optical telescope element manager. This technique will only be used if the James Webb Space Telescope's mirror is contaminated during integration and testing."
"Small dust particles or molecules can impact the science that can be done with the Webb," said Feinberg. "So cleanliness especially on the mirrors is critical."
So if a NASA engineer forgets to wear gloves and leaves a fatty print on a mirror, the Snow cannon will be used. Also NASA should make sure to keep cats out of the labs. They like to walk over stuff.
The Webb Telescope will be the most powerful space telescope ever built. With a mirror seven times as large as Hubble's and infrared capability, Webb will be capturing light from 13.5 billion light years away.
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The James Webb Space Telescope will have a weight of over 6 tons and a diameter of 21.3 feet. It's mission goals include the search for the first galaxies or luminous objects formed after the Big Bang, determining how galaxies evolved from their formation until now, observe the formation of stars from the first stages to the formation of planetary systems and measure the physical and chemical properties of planetary systems, including our own Solar System, and investigate the potential for life in those systems.