See NASA's new space telescope at -370 degrees Fahrenheit

NASA tests an important part of the James Webb Space Telescope in a cryogenic chamber and snaps a cool picture.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
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Critical pieces of the Webb telescope handle the cold like a champ.

NASA/Chris Gunn

And you thought it got cold in winter. NASA's James Webb Space Telescope made it through a frigid trial in a cryogenic chamber. An exposed human couldn't survive in there, but a NASA camera did and we can all enjoy a fascinating look at what went on inside. 

NASA's photo, released Friday, looks like a still from a sci-fi movie, but it shows how important elements of the telescope react to the kind of extreme cold it will face in space.

Webb, scheduled to launch in 2019, represents the next generation of space-faring telescopes. It will be the most powerful ever built and will pick up where Hubble and Spitzer leave off. It will look for clues leading back to the early formation of the universe. 

Chamber A at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Texas is legendary. The massive thermal-vacuum facility once hosted Apollo spacecraft (and sometimes the crew members), but it got a remodel to help it simulate deep space conditions for testing the James Webb telescope.

NASA placed the combined optical and science instrument part of the telescope in the chamber and snapped a long-exposure photo at the mind-boggling temperature of 50 kelvins (around -369.7 degrees Fahrenheit/-223.2 degrees Celsius). 

The camera was meant to monitor the telescope's alignment and keep an eye on the black material used around the primary mirror to block out light. NASA says "the telescope shrank ever so slightly in the extreme cold of the chamber."

Webb successfully passed its cryogenic tests, which NASA describes as "a significant milestone in the telescope's journey to the launch pad." We can enjoy the peek inside the chamber and be glad we don't have to brave that kind of cold.

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