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Sunday, September 25, 2022

The Webb telescope is ready for SCIENCE. This is what it means

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NASA is scheduled to release the first images captured by the James Webb Space Telescope on July 12, 2022. They mark the beginning of the next era in astronomy as Webb — the largest space telescope ever built — begins collecting scientific data that will help answer questions about the earliest moments of the Universe and allow astronomers to study exoplanets in greater detail than ever before. But it has taken nearly eight months of travel, setup, testing and calibration to get these most valuable telescopes ready for prime time. Marcia Rieke, an astronomer at the University of Arizona and the scientist in charge of one of Webb’s four cameras explains what she and her colleagues did to get this telescope going.

1. What has happened since the launch of the telescope?

After the successful launch of the James Webb Space Telescope on December 25, 2021, the team began the long process of moving the telescope to its final orbital position, unfolding the telescope, and while everything cooled down, calibrating the cameras and sensors on board.

The launch was as smooth as a rocket launch can go. One of the first things my colleagues at NASA noticed was that the telescope had more fuel left on board than predicted to make future adjustments to its orbit. This allows Webb work much longer beyond the original 10-year goal of the mission.

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The first task during Webb’s month-long journey to its final location in orbit was to unfold the telescope. This went smoothly, starting with the white knuckle insert of the sunshade that helps cool the telescope, followed by aligning the mirrors and turning on sensors.

Once the awning was open, our team started to monitor the temperatures of the four cameras and spectrometers on board, waiting for them to reach the low enough temperature so that we can see each of the 17 different modes in which the instruments can work