NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope
James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) was launched on Dec 25, 2021. It was launched at 12:20 UTC by an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana. NASA released the oldest image of the universe on July 11, 2022, taken by this telescope. It is the highest resolution image of the Universe ever taken. It was launched to look for older and fainter astronomical objects via infrared astronomy. It can look for distant astronomical objects with a greater resolution than the legendary Hubble Space Telescope.
James Webb Space Telescope launch and deployment
The telescope was launched on December 25, 2021, at 12:20 UTC by an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana. The rocket’s upper stage separated 27 minutes after launch. The solar array was released and deployed 33 minutes after launch. Sunshield deployment began 3 days after launch. The tower assembly was deployed 4 days after launch. The telescope is fully deployed 14 days after launch. The burn to insert into its orbit is made 30 days after launch. The cooling instruments had achieved their target temperature by 3.5 months into launch.
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It is a Korsch-type telescope. Its mirror has a diameter of 6.5 m and a focal length of 131.4 m. It can detect wavelengths in the range of 0.6 – 28.3 micrometers. The mirror is made up of 18 hexagonal mirrors. Its collecting area is about six times more than Hubble’s. The mirrors are coated with gold to give infrared reflectivity. It uses a heat shield to block light from the Sun, Moon, and Earth. The Sun, Moon, and Earth are always at one side of the telescope since it is placed in the sun-earth L2 Lagrange point. This is necessary because for taking measurements in infrared, the telescope has to be cooled under -223.2 degrees celsius.
Comparison with other telescopes
Often James Webb Space Telescope is called a replacement for Hubble Space Telescope. But NASA calls it a successor since the data from Hubble went into designing JWST. The main difference is JWST works primarily in the infrared range. This is because most distant objects are seen to be red-shifted and hence visible only in infrared. Hubble works mainly in the visible and ultraviolet ranges, although it can look through infrared. The mirror in JWST is much larger than Hubble allowing us to look at very distant and ancient objects. The JWST is placed in the sun-earth Lagrange point whereas Hubble is in low earth orbit.
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James Webb Space Telescope Science Goals
The science goals of the James Webb Space Telescope are to look for stars and galaxies that formed just after the Big Bang took place. It also wants to study how galaxies formed and evolved. It wants to understand how stars and planet formation takes place. Planetary systems that may host life are also a target for the telescope’s observations.
James Webb Space Telescope images
US President Joe Biden revealed the first operational image from the James Webb Space Telescope on July 11, 2022. The image is called Webb’s First Deep Field. It is a picture of the SMACS 0723 galaxy cluster and how it appeared 4.6 billion years ago. This deep field is the oldest and highest resolution image of the Universe ever taken. This was the first time humans viewed astronomical objects so distant and so backward in time.
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