GREENBELT, Md. – The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), in cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA) and Canadian Space Agency (CSA) received their first images from the James Webb Space Telescope Tuesday morning at 8:30 a.m. local time at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
The telescope launched aboard an ESA Ariane 5 rocket from a spaceport near Kourou, French Guiana Dec. 25, 2021 at 5:20 a.m.
The mission of the telescope according to NASA is “seeking light from the first galaxies of the universe and exploring distant worlds and the solar system.” The telescope serves as the next generation of the Hubble Space Telescope launched April 24, 1990.
“Webb will fundamentally alter our understanding of the universe,” according to a NASA press release. “It can observe all of the cosmos, from planets to stars to nebulae to galaxies and beyond – helping scientists uncover secrets of the distant universe as well as exoplanets closer to home. Webb can explore our solar system’s residents with exquisite new detail and search for faint signals from the first galaxies ever made. From new forming stars to devouring black holes, Webb will reveal all this and more.”
While its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, utilized visible and ultraviolet light, the Webb Space Telescope utilizes infrared technology to look through “gas and dust to see distant objects.”
“Webb is a feat of human ingenuity,” writes NASA. “The mission has been developed over two decades, with contributions from thousands of scientists, engineers, and other professionals from more than 14 countries and 29 U.S. states.”
By the time Webb reached its orbital point on Jan. 24, it was 1 million miles from Earth. To put this into perspective, the Moon is 238,900 miles away from Earth, making the Webb’s journey almost 4.2 times further than that of the Earth to the Moon.
The point in which the telescope reached its orbit is known as the Lagrange point or L2. Gravitational points about the Earth-Sun system have points of balance in which the points are relatively stable enough to maintain an orbit of an object, these are Lagrange points. There are five Lagrage points in the Earth-Sun system.
Due to the slight instability of L2, NASA scientists will have to make minor adjustments to maintain Webb’s course to keep it in its position.
Webb will remain at L2 for the next 20 or more years as it continues to read and transmit data about the deep space beyond. While the Webb telescope will remain focused on deep space, the back side will utilize solar energy to power the telescope.
To view more images and learn more about the Webb Space Telescope, visit jwst.nasa.gov.