NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope: The ultimate guide

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is an infrared space observatory that launched on December 25, 2021 from ESA’s launch site in Kourou, French Guiana at 7:20 a.m. EST (1220 GMT; 9:20 a.m. Kourou local time). aboard the Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket.

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NASA released the first science images from Webb at a live event on July 12. Explore the first images in more detail and what they mean for JWST science in our recently published paper.

The $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope—NASA’s largest and most powerful space science telescope—will probe the universe to reveal the history of the universe from the Big Bang to the formation of alien planets and beyond. It is one of NASA’s Great Observatories, huge space instruments that include, for example, the Hubble Space Telescope, which allows one to look deep into space.

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The James Webb Space Telescope took 30 days to travel nearly a million miles (1.5 million kilometers) to its permanent home: the Lagrange point—a gravitationally stable spot in space. The telescope arrived at L2, the second Sun-Earth Lagrangian point, on January 24, 2022. L2 is a location in space near Earth that lies opposite the Sun; this orbit will allow the telescope to stay in line with Earth as it orbits the Sun. It has been a popular location for several other space telescopes, including the Herschel Space Telescope and the Planck Space Observatory.

According to NASA (opens in new tab), the James Webb Space Telescope will focus on four main areas: first light in the universe, the assembly of galaxies in the early universe, the birth of stars and protoplanetary systems, and planets (including the origin of life.)

On July 11, NASA announced that all 17 “modes” of the observatory’s science instrument had been fully tested and that the James Webb Space Telescope was ready to begin its epic science mission.

The powerful James Webb Space Telescope is also expected to take stunning photographs of celestial objects like its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope. Fortunately for astronomers, the Hubble Space Telescope remains in good health, and it is likely that the two telescopes will work together in JWST’s early years. JWST will also look at exoplanets found by the Kepler Space Telescope or follow up on real-time observations from ground-based space telescopes.

James Webb Space Telescope

The James Webb Space Telescope is the product of an impressive international (opens in new tab) collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency. According to NASA, more than 300 universities, organizations and companies in 29 US states and 14 countries have participated in JWST. The nominal lifetime of the James Webb Space Telescope is five years, but the target is 10 years according to the ESA (opens in new tab).

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) launched on December 25, 2021, from ESA’s launch site in Kourou, French Guiana, at 7:20 a.m. EST (1220 GMT; 9:20 a.m. local time in Kourou), aboard an Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket.

Thanks to the successful and precise launch, NASA announced that JWST should have enough fuel to more than double its minimum expected mission life of 10 years. Since its launch, the achievements of the James Webb Space Telescope have been steadily approaching.

Impressive HD video captured the observatory taking off from the Ariane 5 rocket that carried it into space. The three-minute video shows Webb slowly moving away from his rocket stage and deploying his solar panels.

The James Webb Space Telescope deployed and tested a key antenna on December 26, 2021, in a process that NASA said took about one hour (opens in new tab). The antenna will be responsible for storing scientific data on Earth twice a day. Just one day later, on December 27, the observatory sailed beyond lunar orbit.

On December 31, 2021, Webb successfully deployed its massive solar aperture. Tensioning of the five layers of the solar visor began on January 3, 2022 and was completed the following day. The telescope’s secondary mirror was then successfully deployed and secured on January 5, 2022.

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope

Then on January 8, 2022, NASA announced that the James Webb Space Telescope had successfully deployed the giant primary mirror and was now fully deployed. The next step for Webb is to align the 18 individual mirrors that make up the observatory’s primary mirror. NASA estimates that the work could take up to 120 days after launch to complete the alignment.

The James Webb Space Telescope has reached its final destination: L2, the second Sun-Earth Lagrangian point, which it will orbit on January 24, 2022, after traveling nearly a million miles (1.5 million kilometers). Lagrange points are gravitationally stable points in space.

The first scientific images from the James Webb Space Telescope were officially released by NASA during a live event on July 12 at 10:30 a.m. EDT (1430 GMT). They included Cosmic Cliffs in the Carina Nebula, the remarkable Southern Ring Nebula, Stephan’s Quintet and an analysis of the atmospheric composition of the giant exoplanet WASP-96 b.


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