CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (AP) — The world’s largest and most powerful space telescope reached its final destination 1 million miles from Earth on Monday, a month after it lifted off to view the dawn of the universe.
See the event in the player above.
On command, the James Webb Space Telescope fired its rocket engines for nearly five minutes to enter orbit around the Sun at the designated location, and NASA confirmed the operation went as planned.
The $10 billion observatory’s mirrors still need to be carefully aligned and the infrared detectors need to be sufficiently cooled before scientific observations can begin in June. But air traffic controllers in Baltimore were euphoric after chalking it up to yet another success.
“We are one step closer to unlocking the mysteries of the universe. And I can’t wait to see Webb’s first new take on the universe this summer!” This is stated in a statement by NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.
The telescope will allow astronomers to look further into the past than ever before, all the way back to when the first stars and galaxies formed 13.7 billion years ago. It’s only 100 million years from the Big Bang when the universe was created.
In addition to observing the stars, Webb will scan the atmospheres of alien worlds for possible signs of life.
The dramatic drama began a few days after the start.
A tennis court-sized sunshield swung open in front of the telescope in early January, 1.5 weeks after the Christmas launch from French Guiana. The observatory’s gilded mirror, 21 feet (6.5 meters) in diameter, unrolled a few days later.
Starting the engine on Monday propelled the telescope into orbit around the Sun at the so-called second Lagrange point, where the gravitational forces of the Sun and Earth balance out. The 7-ton spacecraft is always pointed towards the night side of the Earth to keep its infrared detectors as cold as possible.
At 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometers) away, Webb is more than four times as far from the Moon.
Considered the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, which orbits at 330 miles (530 kilometers), Webb is too far away for emergency repairs. This makes the milestones of the last month – and the coming ones – even more important.
Astronauts who have gone into outer space have performed operations on the Hubble five times. The first operation, carried out in 1993, corrected the telescope’s blurry vision, a defect that appeared during the construction of the mirror on the ground.