The most powerful telescope in the world finished its journey yesterday, reaching its observation post over one million miles away from Earth. It started its journey a month ago in a quest to look through space at the beginning of the universe.
At around 19:00 GMT, the James Webb telescope shot its thrusters for 5 minutes in order to go into orbit around the sun. NASA has confirmed that everything went to plant with the operation.
All scientific equipment on the $10 billion telescope must be calibrated and chilled before it is fully operational, with observations expecting to take place in June.
Bill Nelson from NASA administration released a statement saying –
‘We’re one step closer to uncovering the mysteries of the universe. And I can’t wait to see Webb’s first new views of the universe this summer!’
The new telescope will allow astronomers to look back in time further than ever before, 13.7 billion years ago, just 100 million years from the big bang and the creation of the universe.
Besides observing deep into space, the Webb Telescope will also scan the atmosphere of alien worlds for possible signs of life.
Keith Parrish, a manager on the Webb project, said –
“Webb is officially on station.”
“This is just capping off just a remarkable 30 days.”
The telescope was launched on Christmas day from French Guiana. A week-and-a-half after its launch, its tennis court-sized sun shield opened. The 21-foot gold plated primary mirror opened several days later.
Webb’s mirrors are made of 18 hexagonal segments, each of which is the size of a coffee table. It will take months to align each one.
Operations project scientist Jane Rigby said –
“We’re a month in and the baby hasn’t even opened its eyes yet,”
The first images from the telescope are not set to be released until June as it has to go through months of crucial calibrations and cooling before it can do so.
Yesterday’s thruster firing saw to telescope reach its orbit around the sun and settle at Lagrange point (L2). This is where the gravitational forces of the Earth and the Sun balance each other out.
Monday’s thruster firing put the telescope in orbit around the sun at the so-called second Lagrange point (L2), where the gravitational forces of the sun and Earth balance each other.
The telescope will follow a path in space that keeps its alignment with Earth constant whilst circling the sun meaning the radio will have uninterrupted radio contact with Earth.
At one million miles away, the James Webb Telescope is four times further away than our own moon.
Considered to be the successor of the Hubble Space Telescope, the Webb Telescope is expected to operate for well over a decade. However, unlike the Hubble Telescope which is only 330 miles away, Webb is too far away for emergency repairs meaning each previous milestone and future milestones are critical.
The Webb telescope can look into space and at other planets clearer than any instrument before it which is why both European and Canadian space agencies teamed up with NASA to make its launch a success.