After decades of work, the James Webb Space Telescope was launched on Christmas day. Credit: NASA

NASA’s James Webb Telescope Successfully Launched Kick-Starting New Space Exploration Era

James Webb will receive the first images no earlier than six months after launch.

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The new generation infrared space observatory James Webb was launched earlier today on board the Ariane 5 launch vehicle. It is expected that the telescope will operate for at least 5-10 years in space, being in a halo orbit around the second Lagrange point in the Sun-Earth system.


James Webb Launch

James Webb will become one of the main space observatories of the next generation, which will explore a variety of objects in the Universe in the infrared range, continuing the observation programs of Hubble and Spitzer. In total, it took 25 years to create the telescope, and complex tests took almost three years.

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On December 25, 2021, the heavy launch vehicle Ariane 5 took off from the Kourou Cosmodrome in French Guiana, along with the James Webb enclosed under its nose.

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Twenty-seven minutes after the launch, the telescope separated from the second stage and began to deploy the solar array. The first trajectory correction maneuver using the observatory engines was carried out shortly after, and a high gain antenna was deployed.

James Webb separated from the rocket 27 minutes after launch. Credit: NASA TV
James Webb separated from the rocket 27 minutes after launch. Credit: NASA TV

Flight to the second Lagrange point

The flight to point L2 in the Sun-Earth system will take 29 days. During the first week of flight, the telescope will deploy all layers of the heat shield and extend a two-meter support tower separating the optical system from the main body of the observatory.

For the second week, the telescope will deploy the optical system so that it gradually begins to cool down to operating temperatures.

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Another three months will take the stages of instrument calibration and optical alignment, and James Webb will receive the first images no earlier than six months after launch. All in all, the observatory should work for at least 5-10 years in space.

What makes James Webb so much better than Hubble?

At present, the Hubble is operating in low-earth orbit, which, despite the record-breaking operation period and failures, is to conduct joint observations with James Webb until the completion of its work.

Hubble has served astronomers for 31 years. The legendary telescope made discoveries in various fields of astrophysics and cosmology – but its capabilities are still limited.

The main mirror of James Webb is six times larger than that of “Hubble”, the instruments are much more sensitive, and the heat shield and the orbit around the second Lagrange point will reduce the thermal interference in observations to a historical minimum.

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James Webb will be able to see objects hundreds of times fainter than Hubble is capable of: from the first stars and galaxies in the Universe to small exoplanets.

In addition, Hubble has practically reached its end of life, and the orbiting infrared space telescopes WISE, Spitzer, and Herschel, which previously supplied astronomers with data in this wavelength range, have already completed their scientific programs.

It is worth noting here that James Webb is a successor, not a replacement for Hubble since it will primarily study the Universe in the infrared range of waves, while Hubble studies it mainly in the optical and ultraviolet parts of the spectrum.

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Sources:

Potter, S. (2021, December 23). NASA’s Webb telescope launches to see First Galaxies, distant worlds. NASA.
Strickland, A. (2021, December 25). The most powerful telescope ever built has successfully launched. CNN.
Wall, M. (2021, December 25). NASA’s $10 billion James Webb space telescope launches on epic mission to study early universe. Space.com.

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Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

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