The past month has been an exciting time for the James Webb Space Telescope! After the launch on Christmas Day, the telescope spent the next few weeks installing its mirrors, checking the individual segments and then maneuvering to L2, where it will spend the next ten to twenty years unlocking the mysteries of the cosmos. According to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, Chief Science Communications Officer (CSCO) for JWST and The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) for ESA, James Webb will start collecting candles this summer.
To mark the occasion, the Virtual Telescope Project (VTP) has taken pictures James Webb to give people a sense of what it looks like in circuits. Unfortunately, there is not much to see there, other than a bright dot in the night sky. But like Carl Sagan’s famous “Pale Blue Dot” picture of the Earth (taken by Voyager 1 on its way out of the solar system), or Cassini’s “The Day Earth Smiled” image, there is a huge amount of significance in the small point of light.
VTP is an advanced astronomical service launched in 2006 by the Bellatrix Astronomical Observatory, located in Ceccano, Italy. The VTP operates two remotely accessible robot telescopes, Planewave 17-inch g / 6.8 (432/2939 mm) Corrected Dall-Kirkham Astrograph (aka “Elena”) and Celestron 14 f -f / 8.4 (356/3000) mm) Schmidt -Cassegrain OTA. They also offer public online observation sessions, livestreams, expert comments from their scientific staff, and public outreach to people around the world.
The photo of JWST (shown above) was taken on January 24th with the help of Elena. This robot telescope tracked the apparent motion of JWST automatically and achieved a single 300-single unfiltered exposure indicating the position of the telescope (indicated by an arrow in the middle). By the time it was photographed, JWST had reached its final destination (L2), placing it at a distance of about 1.4 million km (869,920 mi) from Earth.
In addition to the image above, VTP also created a short GIF animation (below) showing JWST’s apparent motion toward the stars. Although it may look a little more than a small dot on a background of brighter dots (and the darkness of the room), these images tell a story of an ambitious mission that was decades in the making. Work on the telescope began in 1996, and it was originally hoped that James Webb would be launched in 2007 and with a budget of $ 500 million.
Unfortunately, there were many delays and cost overruns due to a major redesign, problems with the sun visor and Ariane 5 rocket that would fire it. The COVID-19 pandemic also caused delays, as did the fact that James Webb is the most complex and advanced space telescope ever devised. Again and again, the origami-like nature of the telescope (where it must be folded to fit within a payload casing) required extensive test runs, and the slightest problems required genetic testing and safety checks.
In 2016, construction was finally completed, but a comprehensive test program was still to be completed. At the end of 2021, the telescope testing ended, and it James Webb was sent to Kourou, French Guiana, for integration with Ariane 5 rocket. When the launch finally happened on Christmas Day, it went smoothly. Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s Associate Director of Scientific Missions, commented: “It really is Christmas with all the gifts and everything, and we have a space mission!”
In 2016, construction was finally completed, but a comprehensive test program was still to be completed. At the end of 2021, the telescope testing ended and James Webb was sent to Kourou, French Guiana, for integration with Ariane 5 rocket. When the launch finally happened on Christmas Day, it went smoothly. NASA’s Associate Director of Scientific Missions Thomas Zurbuchen, “It’s really Christmas with all the presents and everything, and we have a space mission.”
Now that the mission is at L2, the mission team is waiting for the telescope to reach operating temperature. This will be followed by activation of the telescope’s instruments, final testing and calibration. Aside from any issues, NASA expects James Webb to begin collecting its first light in June 2022. As NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said:
“Web, welcome home! Congratulations to the team for all their hard work to ensure Webbs secure arrival at L2 today. We are one step closer to revealing the mysteries of the universe. And I can not wait to see Webb’s first new vision of the universe this summer! ”
Further reading: The Virtual Telescope Project 2.0