Almost every day we use our computers, our smartphones, our Netflix subscriptions and our iPads with Retina display—and we forget that we’re kind of just floating around on a greenish-blue rock somewhere in outer space.
Canadians have been pretty good at embracing great technology while mostly keeping their feet firmly on the ground, and now a couple of our very own Canadian-made devices are helping NASA build the most advanced telescope yet for space research to be conducted on some of the most distant galaxies outside our own.
A highly precise camera and a sensor were unveiled by the Canadian Space Agency earlier this week, which will be added to the new James Webb Space Telescope at a later date. The telescope is set to replace the Hubble Space Telescope in 2018.
Designed to be bigger and better than the Hubble, the Webb will be seven times larger in size and will be able to see much deeper into space. The Hubble is currently in orbit at about 400 kilometres from Earth, but the Webb will be placed even farther—about 1.5 million kilometres from Earth. To put that into perspective, that’s about five times the distance between the Moon and the Earth’s surface.
The Canadian-made camera, called the Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS), will actually operate as the telescope’s steering wheel. FGS will help it stay pointed in the most precise direction to ensure the telescope can capture the very sharpest images with a precision of up to one-millionth of a degree.
“That is looking from one side of a dime to the other, placed 1,000 kilometres away,” explained John Hutchings from the National Research Council of Canada.
The Near-InfraRed Imager and Slitless Spectograph (NIRISS) is the other Canadian instrument that will be added to the Webb telescope, which will allow it to peer at some of the oldest and farthest objects in the universe. NIRISS will be used to study the atmospheres of distant exoplanets and will even be capable of discovering ones that may be habitable.
Canada’s contribution to the Webb telescope has been dubbed “Canadeyes” to show that the instruments are just as important as the Canadarm was when it was initially built for the International Space Station. NASA officials said that Canada’s FSG will be the tool responsible for how scientists actually get results from using the telescope.
"All of those results are the imprint of the successful hardware contribution that Canada is giving today because none of it would be possible without the FGS' capabilities," NASA said.
The enormous telescope project has been in the works for over a decade through a joint effort between the American, Canadian and European space agencies, costing over $146 million in design and development. There’s still a lot to be done in the six years before it’s scheduled to take Hubble’s place, but it’s coming together slowly.
By 2018, all of our household appliances and electronics in our homes may be entirely controlled by our smartphones, or the nineteenth-generation iPad may even be scheduled to come out that year.
But even though it’s still six years away and the technology we use here at home is bound to be more awesome by then, it’ll be pretty amazing to know that pieces of Canadian-made gadgetry will be floating around somewhere in space, helping us to discover new things about other worlds we never even knew existed.