New space telescope reaches final stop millions of miles away



The world’s largest, most powerful space telescope arrived at its observatory 1 million miles from Earth on Monday, a month after it took off on a quest for the dawn of the universe.

As ordered, the James Webb Space Telescope fired its rocket boosters for nearly 5 minutes to enter orbit around the sun at the designated location, and NASA confirmed the operation went as planned. plan.

The mirrors on the $10 billion observatory still have to be meticulously aligned, the infrared detectors cold enough, and the scientific instruments calibrated before the observations can begin in June. .

But flight controllers in Baltimore were elated after another hit.

“We take it one step further to uncover the mysteries of the universe. And I can’t wait to see Webb’s first new views of the universe this summer! “NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement.

The telescope will allow astronomers to go back in time further than ever, back to the time when the first stars and galaxies formed 13.7 billion years ago. It is only 100 million years since the Big Bang, when the universe was created.

Besides observing the stars, Webb will scan the atmospheres of alien worlds for possible signs of life.

Keith Parrish, project manager, said: “Webb is officially up and running. “This is limited to just a remarkable 30 days.”

The telescope was launched from French Guiana around Christmas. A week and a half later, a sunshade the size of a tennis court opened up on the telescope. The device’s gold-plated main mirror – which is 21 feet (6.5 meters) wide – was opened a few days later.

The main mirror has 18 hexagonal segments, each about the size of a coffee table, which will have to be carefully aligned for them to look like one – a task that will take three months.

Jane Rigby, operational project scientist, said of the telescope’s infrared devices: “We’re a month old and the baby hasn’t even opened his eyes yet. “But that’s the science we’re aiming for.”

Monday’s repulsion trigger put the telescope into orbit around the sun at the so-called second Lagrange point, where the gravity of the sun and Earth balance each other out. The 7-ton spacecraft will orbit that point while also orbiting the sun. It will always face the night side of Earth to keep its infrared detectors as cold as possible.

At a distance of 1 million miles (1.6 million km), Webb is four times farther than the moon.

Webb is expected to be up and running for more than a decade, maybe two.

Billed as the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, orbiting at a distance of 330 miles (530 km), Webb is too far away for urgent repair. That makes the milestones of the past month – and the milestones ahead – all the more important.

The spacewalk astronauts performed the surgery five times on Hubble. The first operation, in 1993, corrected the telescope’s blurred vision, a flaw introduced in the construction of the ground-based mirror.

Whether chasing optical and ultraviolet light like Hubble or infrared light like Webb, telescopes can see farther and clearer when operating above Earth’s distorting atmosphere. That’s why NASA has partnered with European and Canadian space agencies to send Webb and its mirror – the largest ever launched – into space.

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