The James Webb Telescope arrives at its destination in space: updates and video

After traveling nearly a million miles, the James Webb Space Telescope arrived at its new home on Monday. The spacecraft’s arrival mark...


After traveling nearly a million miles, the James Webb Space Telescope arrived at its new home on Monday. The spacecraft’s arrival marks another delicate milestone as scientists on Earth prepare to spend at least a decade using the observatory to study distant light since the beginning of time.

The telescope was launched into space on December 25, with astronomers around the world holding their breath. But the $10 billion telescope still had to go through the first stage of its setup phase. Earlier this month, astronomers caught their breath when the observatory deployed its heat shield and deployed its mirrors and other instruments with few surprises – a remarkable feat given the telescope’s new design and technical complexity. .

And around 2:05 p.m. EST on Monday, engineers confirmed that the James Webb Space Telescope had successfully reached its final destination.

The telescope has arrived at a location beyond the moon after a final five-minute shot from the spacecraft’s thrusters, sweeping into a small pocket of stability where the gravitational forces of the sun and Earth mingle. From this outpost, called the second Lagrange point or L2, the Webb telescope will be dragged around the sun along the Earth for years to keep an eye on space without expending a lot of fuel to maintain its position.

“We are on the verge of uncovering the mysteries of the universe,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement. “And I can’t wait to see the first new sights of Webb’s universe this summer!”

NASA officials will talk about the spacecraft’s sequel on the agency’s YouTube channel at 3 p.m., or in the video player above, and another talk is scheduled for 4 p.m.

The James Webb Space Telescope, named after a former NASA administrator who oversaw the early years of the Apollo program, is seven times more sensitive than the nearly 32-year-old Hubble Space Telescope and three times its size. The successor to Hubble, the Webb is designed to see further into the past than its famous predecessor in order to study the first stars and galaxies that twinkled in the dawn of time, 13.7 billion years ago.

Webb’s launch on Christmas morning crowned a risk 25-year development timeline fraught with technical challenges, errors and cost overruns that made its journey into space all the more taxing for astronomers and space agency administrators. The telescope, tightly packaged to fit inside a European Ariane rocket, deployed dozens of limbs and mechanical instruments. These comprised five layers of a thin, sheet-like plastic that were stretched to the size of a tennis court to protect Webb’s instruments from the heat of the sun. Later, the telescope deployed a 21-foot-wide array of 18 gold-plated mirrors that will help bounce light from the cosmos into its ultra-sensitive infrared sensors.

The instrument side of the telescope, facing away from the sun, will be covered in freezing darkness, while the other side, or outermost layer of the sunshade, will deflect temperatures as hot as 230 degrees Fahrenheit. This helps address a key challenge in Webb’s design of keeping the telescope’s sensors cool so stray heat doesn’t interfere with his infrared scans of ancient galaxies, distant black holes and planets orbiting Earth. other stars.

Deploying the telescope in the L2 district also helps keep temperatures low while providing enough sunlight for the Webb’s solar panels, which generate electricity. But the telescope is not parked precisely at L2 – it will rotate around the center of the point to expose its solar panels to sunlight.

“If we were perfectly there, we’d be grounded by Earth, so we wouldn’t have our electricity,” said Scott Willoughby, telescope program manager at Northrop Grumman, the observatory’s prime contractor. “So we do this halo orbit.”

Parking the spacecraft this far from Earth will also help conserve its limited fuel reserves.

“If you’re trying to stay closer, you have to expend fuel to stay there,” Mr Willoughby said. But less fuel is needed to park the Webb at L2, he said, “meaning this vehicle’s mission life will be the longest.” This month, a mission manager suggested the spacecraft could remain operational for up to 20 years.

With the telescope’s instruments deployed and its arrival at L2 complete, months of small steps lie ahead before those of us on Earth can begin to see the striking views of the cosmos from the spacecraft. Over the next three months, engineers will watch as the algorithms help fine-tune the position of the Webb’s mirror segments, correcting any misalignment – as precisely as a 10,000th hair follicle – to allow all 18 hexagonal pieces of its array to function. . like a single mirror.

Engineers must then calibrate the Webb’s science instruments, test its ability to lock onto known objects and track moving targets before astronomers can use the telescope for science operations starting this summer.

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Newsrust - US Top News: The James Webb Telescope arrives at its destination in space: updates and video
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