The James Webb Space Telescope has finally arrived at it’s destination.

There was a celebration at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, as engineers witnessed the second primary mirror wing of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope unfold. This begins the latching process of the satellite into orbit. Dear friends, if you haven’t seen it yet, then better watch out for a new twinkle in the night sky. That’s the James Webb Space Telescope.

Image: NASA / Bill Ingalls | a snapshot of engineers at the Space Telescope Institute in Baltimore, as they witness the second primary mirror wing unfold, a process that begins the latching of the mirror wings of JWST

“There is a new speck of light in the sky right now, best observable from Earth around midnight, writes Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen, in a recent article published on Space.com.



Twinkle Twinkle In The Sky

On December 25, 2021 (Christmas Day), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched the new James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) — the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope — into space. And after a month, JWST has finally made it to its destination. On January 24, the satellite fired it’s thrusters for roughly five minutes, placing it into it’s final orbit. The telescope is finally completing the complexity of this transformation.

“This blurry speck — dim as it may be, small as it may be — represents the grit and unity of thousands of people who worked together to place it in the heavens,” Dr Zurbechen continues.

JWST is a tennis-court-sized telescope with a five-layer sunshield unfurled with incredible precision, Zurbechen writes. It’s secondary mirror extended out a 7.2-meters (24 feet) long tripod. The team had to assemble thousands of parts of the telescope remotely here on Earth, and perfectly working in sequence to get it right. This has been the largest mirror ever sent in space. JWST is made of 18 gold-colored, honeycomb-like hexagons spanning 6.5 meters (21.3 feet) across altogether.

Image: NASA | graphic representation of JWST’s orbit relative to the sun, Earth and the moon

The telescope is now at a gravitationally stable orbit known as a Lagrange point — here, all the forces on the telescope balance out to keep it in place, as it orbits the sun along with the Earth. This particular Lagrange point, also called L2, is roughly 1.5 kilometers (0.93 miles) away from the Earth, and in a direction opposite to the sun. Here, it will wobble back and forth in a halo orbit, as it will require the use of the thrusters about every three weeks, but hopefully will be stable, after all.



James Webb Space Telescope

James Webb Space Telescope under construction
Image: NASA

L2 is an ideal spot for witnessing the telescope without the interference of the sun, Earth, nor moon. JWST faces away, with it’s huge honeycomb-sunshield blocking away any light from interplanetary space. This telescope operates under extreme cold temperatures, the sunshield will provide the protection. With the shield in place, one side will be roughly 85 degrees Celsius (185 degrees Fahrenheit), and the other at -233 degrees Celsius (-387.4 degrees Fahrenheit). As cold as the average temperature in deep space.

Now, JWST is in orbit, and will take a week or two for it to cool down before satellite engineers can start necessary steps to receive data for observations. There are two stages: first is aligning the honeycomb hexagons with incredible precision — about one five-thousandth the width of a human hair, said Lee Feinberg, a JWST teammate at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, in a press conference held on January 24.

“Everything we’re doing is about getting the observatory ready to do transformative science,” said Jane Rigby, at NASA Goddard, and scientist working on JWST, in the press conference. “We’re a month in, and the baby hasn’t even opened its eyes yet.”

James Webb Space Telescope
Image: NASA

The actual science mission is set to begin around the end of June. The whole process is expected to last roughly three months, followed by another month of calibration of scientific instruments before sample images can be taken. We’ll keep you updated.



JWST Is Far Beyond The Future

The first year of science is already mapped out, with more than 300 observing programmes planned, said Rigby. Some of these observations are geared towards examining exoplanets, peering into their atmosphere for signs of extraterrestrial life and potential habitability. Others will peek into the most farthest galaxies in the observable universe, searching for clues to their formation and evolution over time.

James Webb Space Telescope in orbit
Image: NASA

Other observing programs will seek to find out more about dark matter and dark energy in efforts to unravel their mystery once and for good. The launch and trip of the telescope was a smooth transition to L2, it’s final destination, hence JWST has enough power to fuel these observations well beyond a decade.

“I have seen teams land on Mars, fly the first Mars helicopter, launch and operate high-tech missions that protect and improve life on Earth,” writes Dr Zurbechen, also associate director at NASA Goddard, in the recent article on Space.com. “I no longer believe in the importance of superstars to achieve such audacious goals,” he writes. “I believe in the power of diverse teams that bring all their experiences collectively to bear to overcome obstacles.”

“I feel so hopeful,” as he concludes, “I hope you see what I see when you see that small speck of light.”

Source: NASA


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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Sat, Jan 28, 2022.

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