Monday, June 27, 2022

The James Webb Space Telescope reached its goal in a huge mission milestone

The James Webb Space Telescope fired up its engines and reached its orbit about a million miles (1.5 million kilometers) from our planet, NASA said on Monday, marking a key milestone in its mission to study cosmic history.

Around 14:00 ET (19:00 GMT), the observatory fired its engines for 5 minutes to reach the so-called second Lagrange point, or L2, where it would have access to nearly half the sky at any given moment. .

“Webb, welcome home!” This is stated in a statement by NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

“We are one step closer to unlocking the mysteries of the universe. And I can’t wait for Webb to see the Universe for the first time this summer!”

The trajectory of Webb’s final burn. (Steve Sabia/NASA Goddard)

In this region of space, it will stay in line with the Earth as it moves around the Sun, allowing Webb’s sunshield to protect sensitive equipment from heat and light.

In order for the giant umbrella to provide effective protection, the Sun, Earth, and Moon need to be in the same direction, and the cold side needs to operate at -370 degrees Fahrenheit (-225 Celsius).

The engine launch, known as an orbital burn, was the third such maneuver since Webb was launched on an Ariane 5 rocket on Dec. 25.

The plan was deliberate because if Webb got too much thrust from the rocket, he wouldn’t be able to turn around to fly back to Earth, as that would expose his optics to the Sun, overheating and destroying it.

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Therefore, it was decided to slightly reduce the power of the rocket launch and use the telescope’s own engines to make up the difference.

Webb, which is expected to cost NASA nearly $10 billion, is one of the most expensive science platforms ever built, comparable to CERN’s Large Hadron Collider and its predecessor, the Hubble telescope.

halo orbit

But while Hubble is orbiting the Earth, Webb will orbit in a region of space known as the Lagrange point, where the gravitational pull of the Sun and Earth will be balanced by the centrifugal force of the rotating system.

An object at one of these five points, first proposed by the Italian French mathematician Joseph-Louis Lagrange, would remain stable and not fall into the gravity well of the Sun and Earth, requiring only a small amount of fuel to make adjustments.

Webb will not sit exactly on L2, but will go around it in a “halo” at a distance similar to the Earth and the Moon, cycling every six months.

This will allow the telescope to remain thermally stable and generate power from its solar panels.

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Previous missions to L2 have included the European Space Agency’s Herschel and Planck observatories and NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe.

Diagram showing Lagrange points around the Earth.Five points of gravitational balance around the Earth. (NASA/WMAP Science Team)

Webb’s position will also provide continuous communication with Earth via the deep space network – three large antennas in Australia, Spain and California.

Earlier this month, NASA completed the deployment of a massive golden Webb mirror that will collect infrared signals from the first stars and galaxies that formed 13.5 billion years ago.

The visible and ultraviolet light emitted by the very first luminous objects stretched out due to the expansion of the Universe and today comes in the form of infrared radiation, which Webb is able to detect with unprecedented clarity.

Its mission also includes studying distant planets known as exoplanets to determine their origin, evolution and habitability.

The next steps include adjusting the telescope’s optics and calibrating its scientific instruments. He is expected to broadcast his first images as early as June or July.

© Agence France-Presse

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Nation World News Desk
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