FOLLOW THE JAMES WEBB TELESCOPE -March 22 UPDATE
This is a fantastic resource for following the LIVE progress of the James Webb Space Telescope.
Current Status: Mirror Alignments
Telescope deployment is complete. Webb is now orbiting L2.
Here's a sample from the report on the site:
The current phase is accurate alignment of all the mirror segments and image testing. All is going to plan so far!
Although Image Stacking puts all the light in one place on the detector, the segments are still acting as 18 small telescopes rather than one big one. The segments need to be lined up with each other with an accuracy smaller than the wavelength of the light.
Conducted three times during the commissioning process, Coarse Phasing measures and corrects the vertical displacement (piston difference) of the mirror segments. Using a technology known as Dispersed Fringe Sensing, we use NIRCam to capture light spectra from 20 separate pairings of mirror segments. The spectrum will resemble a barber pole pattern with a slope (or angle) determined by the piston difference of the two segments in the pairing.
If you want to follow our favourite space robot then here's the link! Worth Bookmarking too.
Here's the link: https://www.webb.nasa.gov/content/webbLaunch/whereIsWebb.html
Illustration of the James Webb Telescope
Illustration showing the enormous sun-shield.
How did it get there?
An illustration of the deployment to L2
What is it going to do?
The early Universe
The JWST will be able to look back to around 200 million years after the Big Bang, when the first stars in the Universe formed.
The first stars are thought to have been massive giants made of hydrogen and helium, whose short lives ended in the supernovae that created the heavier elements we detect in younger stars today. To see this period in cosmic history, we need sensitive infrared instruments to detect the faint traces of light that have travelled through space and time to reach us.
The JWST will also look back to the very first galaxies in the Universe to learn more about their evolution and why there’s so much variety in them. Nearly all the spiral and elliptical galaxies that we see today have experienced at least one collision or merger with another local galaxy.
Yet older galaxies look entirely different to their modern counterparts – smaller, clumpier, less structured. Examining galaxies can also inform us of the macrostructure of the Universe and how it’s organised on a large scale.
Dark matter is thought to play an important role in the structure of the Universe, accounting for five times the mass of normal matter such as atoms. Considered to be the scaffolding for the Universe, we’re only able to observe dark matter indirectly by measuring how its gravity affects stars and galaxies.
The JWST won’t be able to see dark matter, but it will employ techniques to study the most distant galaxies and look at their rotation for signs that dark matter is at play.
The JWST will help answer the big question of whether life exists beyond Earth by studying a variety of exoplanets – planets outside our Solar System.
Of particular interest is the TRAPPIST-1 system, where three of its seven planets are in the habitable zone and one may harbour liquid water. The JWST will observe the planet as light from its parent star passes through the planet’s atmosphere, revealing its chemical composition and the gases that are present there.
Our ice giants
While the JWST’s primary science aims lie more in cosmology and star formation, it’ll also take a closer look at a couple of familiar objects – our ice giants, Neptune and Uranus.
The JWST will map their atmospheric temperatures and chemical composition to see how different they are – not only to each other, but also their gas giant cousins, Jupiter and Saturn. The ice giants are at least 30 times further from the Sun than Earth and are the least understood planets in our Solar System.
Pluto and the Kuiper Belt Objects
Dwarf planet Pluto and its fellow Kuiper Belt Objects will also be receiving some observation time.
The JWST is powerful enough to study such icy bodies including comets, which are often-pristine leftovers from our Solar System’s days of planet formation and could hold clues to Earth’s origins. There are no planned missions dedicated to the outer Solar System for years, so new observations and data will play a big part in planning for future planetary missions.
Why ‘James Webb’?
James Webb was head of NASA. He oversaw NASA from the beginning of the Kennedy administration through to the end of the Johnson administration, (1961-68) thus overseeing all the critical first manned launches in the Mercury through Gemini programs, until just before the first crewed Apollo flight. He also dealt with the Apollo 1 fire.