Story at a glance
- NASA published an update for its James Webb space telescope that said the instrument had reached its final orbit position.
- Webb is on an orbit known as L2, where the sun and Earth are always on one side of space — optimal for observatory purposes.
- The powerful telescope still needs to go through a three-month alignment process before it can start sending images back to Earth.
One of the world’s most powerful space telescopes is now on its final orbit and will eventually be able to provide astronomers and the public a peek into the deep realms of space.
On Monday, NASA published an update for the James Webb space telescope and said the final post-launch course correction had been successfully completed, pushing Webb on its final orbit around the second Sun-Earth Lagrange point, known as L2, approximately 1 million miles away from Earth.
“Webb, welcome home! Congratulations to the team for all of their hard work ensuring Webb’s safe arrival at L2 today. 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!” said Bill Nelson, NASA Administrator.
According to NASA, there are multiple Lagrange points, and they represent where gravitational forces and the centrifugal force of the motion of a small, third body, such as a spacecraft, are in equilibrium.
Experts at NASA specifically chose L2 as Webb’s orbit because they believe it’s ideal for an infrared observatory as it’s a unique position where the sun and Earth are always on one side of space. That will allow Webb to keep its telescope optics and instrument perpetually shaded.
That’s important because shade enables Web’s instruments to get cold for infrared sensitivity but still access nearly half the sky at any given moment for observation purposes.
NASA says to view any and every point in the sky over the course of time requires waiting a few months to travel farther around the sun and reveal more of the sky that was “behind” the sun.
Webb was launched from Earth on Christmas Day and has so far successfully completed a series of deployments, including unfurling its 21-foot, gold-coated primary mirror, the final stage of all major spacecraft deployments.
NASA hopes all the preparations in getting Webb set up in space will get the telescope ready to capture its first images by May.
Researchers around the world have been eagerly awaiting Webb’s deployment as the telescope initially began development in 1996. It’s viewed as the successor for NASA’s Hubble telescope, which initially launched into space in 1990.
Now the time has come for Webb to take on space observation duties, and scientists intend for it to become the premier observatory of the next decade, serving thousands of astronomers worldwide.
Webb’s mission will be to search for the first galaxies or luminous objects formed after the Big Bang and determine how galaxies evolved from their initial formation to the present day. The telescope is also expected to observe the formation of stars from their first stages to their eventual formation to planets.
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