New James Webb Telescope Reaches Its Home in Space
Monday morning, January 24, the James Webb Space Telescope completed a month-long trip to its place in the Solar System that will allow it to operate in a dark, cold (very cold) place. How far away is it? Well, the Moon is 239,000 miles up. The James Web Space Telescope is 930,000 miles away. And there are a number of reasons for that.
NASA successfully fired its thrusters for about 5 minutes Monday and put it in an "L2" orbit around the Sun. The Lagrange (L2) position is where the gravity pull of the Sun equals the gravity pull from Earth and the new telescope now where it's in unison with the Earth as it orbits the Sun. Like a geostationary communication satellite orbiting the Earth, it will stay in the same location in the sky from our perspective back on the ground. We know this will work, because there are a couple of other telescopes in the same orbit, and they're doing well.
It's far enough from the Earth and Moon (and it also has a sun shield) to keep the telescope in the dark. Since it will be viewing space in infrared, the colder, the better. So for next few months, it will continue to cool down to an operating temperature of 225 degrees below zero. Also, the telescope had to be folded up in order to launch on top of a rocket. It started unfolding all its parts (and there are a lot of them) almost immediately as it reached space, including its 18 mirror segments, which will be fine-tuned to capture images from deep space. Scientists expect full operation this summer.
The NASA mission team has worked with the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency to get the telescope up there. Already, committees have determined the instrument's first year of scheduled observations that range from our Solar System to father out in space than we've ever seen. And, we're pretty sure that MSU in Bozeman, Montana, has some researchers excited about the developments.