NASA is scheduled to release the very first images taken by the James Webb Space Telescope on July 12, 2022. And we all can’t wait. Stay tuned! This marks the beginning of a new era in astronomy as the largest space telescope ever built seeks to explore the depths of the universe like never seen before. But it’s been nearly eight months since its launch, travel, setup, testing, and calibration of the most sophisticated telescope ever. We’re now asking, what has happened since?
In an article published in The Conversation by astronomer Marcia Rieke of the University of Arizona, she sheds more light on what she and her colleagues have been doing to get James Webb up and running. In summary, she addresses five frequently asked questions about the most sophisticated telescope ever built. So what are we to expect from the telescopes any time soon. Here are five questions she and her colleagues addressed in an article.
Related media: Everything the James Webb Telescope Has Achieved So Far | July 2022 | Unveiled
#1. What’s Happened Since The Telescope Launched?
Successfully launched on Christmas Day last year, and the team has ever since begun the long process of positioning the satellite into its final orbit as calibrations were underway as the telescope eventually cooled. The launch went as smoothly as a rocket launch can go, Reike wrote.
“One of the first things my colleagues at NASA noticed was that the telescope had more remaining fuel onboard than predicted to make future adjustments to its orbit,” as she explains in the article. “This will allow Webb to operate for much longer than the mission’s initial 10-year goal.”
“The first task during Webb’s month-long journey to its final location in orbit was to unfold the telescope. This went along without any hitches, starting with the white-knuckle deployment of the sun shield that helps cool the telescope, followed by the alignment of the mirrors and the turning on of sensors.”
“Once the sun shield was open, our team began monitoring the temperatures of the four cameras and spectrometers onboard, waiting for them to reach temperatures low enough so that we could start testing each of the 17 different modes in which the instruments can operate.”
#2. What Did You Test First?
Cameras were the first instruments the engineers had to test immediately. The first camera tested was the Near Infrared Camera — also known as NIRCam. It was designed to observe faint infrared light from the oldest stars and galaxies in the universe. And this could only be possible after all the 18 honeycomb-shaped mirrors had been aligned.
“Once NIRCam cooled to minus 280 Fahrenheit [minus … Celsius],” the article continues, it was cold enough to start detecting light reflecting off of Webb’s mirror segments and produce the telescope’s first images. The NIRCam team was ecstatic when the first light image arrived. We were in business!”
“These images showed that the mirror segments were all pointing at a relatively small area of the sky, and the alignment was much better than the worst-case scenarios we had planned for.”
“Using the star HD84800 as a reference point, my colleagues on the NIRCam team helped dial in the alignment of the mirror segments until it was virtually perfect,” Reike added.
#3. What Sensors Came Alive Next?
According to Reike, on March 11, as the mirror alignment wrapped up, the Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) and the Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS), had finished cooling and were fully functional. NIRSpec was designed to measure the strength of different wavelengths of light coming from a set target. On the other hand, NIRISS — a slitless spectrograph — will also break light into its different wavelengths.
But here’s the catch: NIRSpec reveals the composition and temperature of distant stars and galaxies; whereas NIRISS is better at observing all the objects in a field. Having two modes, one is specifically designed for studying exoplanets — particularly, ones that are close to their parent stars.
“So far, the instrument checks and calibrations have been proceeding smoothly, and the results show that both NIRSpec and NIRISS will deliver even better data than engineers predicted before launch.”
#4. What Was The Last Instrument To Turn On?
#5. What’s Next For Webb?
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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Sun, Jun 26, 2022.