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James Webb telescope reached final destination: Here’s what is in its ‘to do’ list and when it starts making observations

The delicate orbital burn ensured that Webb reached its right spot; otherwise, had it got too much thrust from the rocket, it would have turned around to fly back to earth, exposing the optics to the sun without a shield and destroying them.

james webb telescope, nasa, L2
NASA said it will take until April 24 to completely align the 18 hexagonal segments (Image: NASA)

Thirty days after launch NASA’s seven-ton James Webb Space telescope, 20 years in development, arrived at the cosmic sparking spot, million miles away to observe the Universe. At around 2.00 EST (Eastern Time), the observatory fired its thrusters to nudge Webb into an orbit called the second Lagrange point, or L2 to have access to nearly half the sky.

The delicate orbital burn ensured that Webb reached its right spot; otherwise, had it got too much thrust from the rocket, it would have turned around to fly back to earth, exposing the optics to the sun without a shield and destroying them.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in a statement said that the organization is now one step closer to uncovering the mysteries of the universe. Starting June, the Webb telescope will start making its observations. Successor to the famous Hubble Space Telescope, the Webb telescope was launched on 25 December by an Ariane-5 rocket from French Guiana.

What is James Webb Space telescope

James Webb is the biggest, most advanced space observatory ever built. It is 100 times more powerful than its predecessor Hubble and is of the size of 70-feet tennis court and weighs 7 tons. It is equipped with a massive 21.6 foot primary mirror and is made of super strong beryllium and has 18 hexagonal segments.

Each segment covered in gold is perfect for reflecting infrared light and unlike Hubble looks at the universe in stretched infrared light.

Where Webb has been positioned to make observations

Webb journeyed through millions of miles in space to reach L2 named after Italian French mathematician Joseph-Louis Lagrange. The important point in space relative to the earth is gravitational balance on the far side of Earth away from the sun-four times the distance of Earth to the Moon, where gravity of earth and Sun combined created a relatively stable location.

At L2 Webb can keep Sun, moon and earth behind and is well shielded against sunlight, always on the night side of our planet and at a handy distance to maintain easy communication via the Deep Space Network, large antennas positions at Australia, California and Spain.

Webb won’t sit at L2, but rather revolve in a “halo” at a distance similar to that between the earth and the moon one revolution every six months.

Webb will be there along with the Roman Space Telescope that arrives in 2027 and ESA’s Gaia 3D star mapper currently orbiting L2. The Webb is expected to operate for well over a decade or two.

Why has Webb been sent to the space

The telescope will help astronomers peer back further in time to the formation of first stars and galaxies 13.7 billion years ago, a mere 100 million years from the Big Bang that created the Universe.

Since the oldest lights from the first stars and galaxies have gone farther due to the expansion of the Universe, it falls off the visible spectrum of light. The infrared telescope will be detecting the oldest, most ancient light and with wavelengths longer than visible light it is imperceptible to the human eye.

Besides making stellar observations about oldest stars and galaxies it will scan alien worlds for possible signs of life.

What will Webb do now

The mirrors of the observatory need to be aligned . the scientific instruments calibrated and the infrared detectors sufficiently chilled before observations can begin.

NASA said it will take until April 24 to completely align the 18 hexagonal segments made from gold and beryllium to create Webb’s primary mirror by tinkering with the curvature of each segment to set the overall shape of the primary mirror. According to scientists it is a deliberate time consuming process and the first images will be blurry. 18 images will be stitched together for one telescopic image.

After aligning the mirror, engineers will take two months to pint Webb at some bright stars to focus the telescope. Next Webb’s four main science instruments will be commissioned as they cool down to a temperature of -370 degrees Fahrenheit.

NASA had said first showpiece telescopic images will take about five months since launch, one commissioning, which by current timeline is not before May.

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