James webb telescope soared into space successfully on Dec. 25 and successfully completed its major deployments about two weeks later while speeding toward its ultimate destination: the Earth-sun Lagrange Point 2 (L2), a gravitationally stable spot in space about 930,000 miles (1.5 million kilometers) away from our planet.
Understanding the origins of the universe. Searching for life in the galaxy. These are not the plot of a new science fiction movie, but the mission objectives of the James webb telescope, the long-awaited successor to the Hubble Space Telescope.
On its journey, the James webb telescope has to complete a difficult mechanical maneuver: assembling itself. The James webb telescope is so large it needed to launch folded up inside a rocket. Over the course of several weeks, James webb telescope needs to unfurl its various components, from its sunshield to its mirrors.
James webb telescope includes 18 hexagonal mirror segments that need to be gradually aligned into a single, nearly perfect light-collecting surface. A necessary part of that process is taking images of the sky to see how well the alignment is proceeding, but Jane Rigby, Webb operations project scientist, warned everyone not to expect much from the “first light” of james webb telescope.
“James webb telescope represents the culmination of decades, if not centuries, of astronomy,” says Sara Seager, a planetary scientist and astrophysicist at MIT. “We’ve been waiting for this a very long time.”
James webb telescope was originally supposed to launch in 2010 and cost around $1 billion. Its price tag ballooned to $10 billion, and it’s way overdue. But the wait will be worth it, at least according to the scientists who expect new and revealing glimpses of our universe.
James webb telescope primary mirror segments will at first be off by millimeters, which is a large degree of imprecision when it comes to honing in on a distant exoplanet or seeing the stars in a faraway galaxy.
But by roughly Day 120 of the mission, which is about April 24, engineers expect that the telescope will be seeing far more precisely, with the alignment procedure complete.
The James webb telescope will surpass the Hubble in several ways. James webb telescope will allow astronomers to look not only farther out in space but also further back in time: James webb telescope will search for the first stars and galaxies of the universe. James webb telescope will allow scientists to make careful studies of numerous exoplanets — planets that orbit stars other than our sun — and even embark on a search for signs of life there.
James webb telescope also taught us about the age of the universe, about what happens when stars explode, about black holes. James webb telescope helped establish many of the boundaries that the Webb hopes to push. Most powerfully, James webb telescope observations have led scientists to believe the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate, propelled by something so mysterious that scientists simply call it “dark energy.”