The James Webb Telescope achieved another major milestone, successfully extending its secondary mirror as it continues to sail seamlessly through its never-before-conducted deployment sequence on the way to its destination.
The James Webb Telescope 2.4-foot-wide (0.74 meters) secondary mirror sits attached to a tripod opposite the main mirror. Its task is to concentrate the light collected by the gold-coated main mirror into an opening at the main mirror’s center. Through this opening, the light reaches the third mirror, which reflects it to the telescope’s instruments.
James Webb Telescope secondary mirror is quite big. In fact, it’s just a tad smaller than the Spitzer Space Telescope’s primary mirror. (Spitzer’s primary mirror is 0.85 meters in diameter, James Webb Telescope secondary mirror is 0.74 meters.).
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However, it looks quite small compared to James Webb Telescope 6.5 meter (21 ft.) diameter primary mirror. Like the primary mirror, the secondary mirror is also coated with gold, giving them both a wonderful reflective property.
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On Wednesday (Jan. 5), operators at James Webb Telescope operations center at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore released latches that secured the legs in place during launch.
After having first performed a very small move to ensure the motors worked well, they then commenced the deployment procedure, which saw the legs extend and fall into place over the course of 10 minutes. NASA streamed the maneuver live with commentary on its TV channel.
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“This is unbelievable. We are now at a point where we’re about 600,000 miles [1 million kilometers] from Earth, and we actually have a telescope,” Bill Ochs, the James Webb Telescope project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in the webstream. “So congratulations to everybody.”
The sunshield will be permanently positioned between the telescope and the Sun, Earth and Moon, with the Sun-facing side built to withstand 230 degrees Fahrenheit (110 degrees Celsius).
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The James Webb Telescope sunshield is especially huge. It is designed to always keep all the infrared instruments of the telescope’s heat sensing telescope in shadow below zero degrees and its size is 70 feet by 46 feet. NASA has completed the most difficult task of installing a tennis-shaped umbrella on its new James Webb telescope.
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This umbrella is so big that it had to be doubled at the time of the telescope’s launch. Sweet Success project manager Bill Oakes told the control team in Baltimore, “It’s a really big moment.”
Visible and ultraviolet light emitted by the very first luminous objects has been stretched by the Universe’s expansion, and arrives today in the form of infrared, which Webb is equipped to detect with unprecedented clarity.
James Webb Telescope is currently on its way to its final destination in space, the second Lagrangian point (L2) 1.5 million km (1 million miles) away from Earth. Deploying the secondary mirror comes on the heels of yesterday’s huge milestone of successfully tensioning the tennis-court-sized sunshield into its final position.
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On Thursday (Jan. 6), the operators will unpack a radiator on the back of the james webb telescope, designed to remove heat from the scientific instruments. They will then move on to assembling the main 21-foot (6.4 m) mirror, which due to its size also had to be folded for launch.
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The James Webb Telescope deployment sequence was a source of apprehension with some describing it as nerve-wracking. James Webb Telescope scientific objective, to see the first stars and galaxies that formed in the universe in the first hundreds of millions of years after the Big Bang, required an observatory of an unprecedented size and complexity. For this reason, the telescope is so big that no existing rocket could launch it without having it folded up first.
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The deploy of the struts holding the secondary mirror took approximately 15 minutes, and latching those struts into place took approximately 45 minutes. Engineers at the Mission Operations Center at the Space Telescope Science Institute were able to confirm the steps based on telemetry beamed back to Earth from the observatory.
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James Webb Telescope is without question the most advanced space telescope ever built. The spacecraft’s infrared gaze will penetrate cosmic clouds of dust to reveal the hidden details of stellar nurseries and embryonic protoplanets midway through formation. James Webb Telescope will also gather the faint photons effused by the first stars and galaxies to form after the big bang—which were initially emitted as visible light but have since been stretched, or “redshifted,” by the expansion of the cosmos.