Why the World’s Astronomers Are Very, Very Anxious Right Now

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A lot of hopes are hinged on the successful launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, Via NYT

What do astronomers eat for breakfast on the day that their $10 billion telescope launches into space? Their fingernails.

“You work for years and it all goes up in a puff of smoke,” said Marcia Rieke of the University of Arizona.

Dr. Rieke admits her fingers will be crossed on the morning of Dec. 24 when she tunes in for the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope. For 20 years, she has been working to design and build an ultrasensitive infrared camera that will live aboard the spacecraft. The Webb is the vaunted bigger and more powerful successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. Astronomers expect that it will pierce a dark curtain of ignorance and supposition about the early days of the universe, and allow them to snoop on nearby exoplanets.

After $10 billion and years of delays, the telescope is finally scheduled to lift off from a European launch site in French Guiana on its way to a point a million miles on the other side of the moon. (Late on Tuesday, NASA delayed the launch at least two days).

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