Webb is Almost Ready. There’s One Last Thing To Do

What's JWST going to show us first? There's a sneak preview on Monday. Artist impression of the James Webb Space Telescope. Credit: ESA.

The James Webb Space Telescope is now in the final phase of commissioning as it readies for science observations. Of the more than 1,000 milestones the observatory has needed to reach since launch to become fully operational, the team said today they are down to about two hundred activities to go. But those 200 are all part of the final phase of commissioning the instruments.

“I call it the home stretch,” said Michael McElwain, Webb observatory project scientist in a media briefing on May 9. “There are 17 scientific modes we need to bring online in the next two months, and we need to demonstrate the telescope’s operational capabilities before we are ready to turn the science instruments loose on the Universe.”

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Brrr. Webb’s MIRI has Reached 6.4 Kelvin, Just a few Degrees Above Absolute Zero

What's JWST going to show us first? There's a sneak preview on Monday. Artist impression of the James Webb Space Telescope. Credit: ESA.

The latest update on the James Webb Space Telescope literally sent a shiver down my spine! The telescope’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) has now reached its operating temperature of a chilly 7 kelvins (7 deg above absolute 0, or -266 degrees C,-447 degrees F).

MIRI has now been turned on and is undergoing initial checkouts.

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It’s Been Three Months in Deep Space, and Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument is Still Cooling Down

The James Webb Space Telescope continues to cool down out at its location at Lagrange Point 2, about 1.5 million kilometers from Earth. Since JWST is an infrared telescope, it needs to operate at extremely low temperatures, less than 40 K (-223 degrees Celsius, -369.4 degrees Fahrenheit). But one instrument needs to be even colder.  

To operate at peak efficiency, Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) must be cooled to a chilly 7 K (-266 C, -447 F).  And it will need a little help to reach those frigid temps.

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Webb turns those 18 separate star images into a single unified star. Next comes even better focus.

During this phase of alignment known as Image Stacking, individual segment images are moved so they fall precisely at the center of the field to produce one unified image instead of 18. In this image, all 18 segments are on top of each other. After future alignment steps, the image will be even sharper. Credit: NASA/STScI

It’s coming together! Engineers for the James Webb Space Telescope have now completed two more phases of the seven-step, three-month-long mirror alignment process. This week, the team made more adjustments to the mirror segments along with updating the alignment of its secondary mirror. These refinements allowed for all 18 mirror segments to work together — for the first time — to produce one unified image.

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Here’s Exactly how Engineers Are Aligning JWST’s Segmented Mirrors

This early Webb alignment image, with dots of starlight arranged in a pattern similar to the honeycomb shape of the primary mirror, is called an “image array.” Credit: NASA/STScI/J. DePasquale

Engineers for the James Webb Space Telescope are in the midst of an intricate, three-month-long process of aligning the telescope’s 18 separate mirror segments to work together as one giant, high-precision 6.5-meter (21.3-foot) primary telescope mirror.

This process, called phasing, began in early February and includes seven different steps, which goes from taking the mirrors’ initial placements after they were deployed to doing a “coarse” and then “fine” alignment, and then making sure the mirror works with all four of Webb’s instruments and their various fields of view.

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James Webb’s First Pictures are Out! But it’s a Work in Progress

Webb sees its first star 18 times. Credit: NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI

Scientists from the James Webb Space Telescope shared the first images from space taken by the new telescope. Since the 18-segment mirror is in the early stages of being aligned, the first image is understandably blurry and a bit jumbled. But its exactly what the team wanted to see.

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Webb’s Mirror Now Fully Unfolded. Prepare to Witness the Power of This Unprecedented Space Telescope

The James Webb Space Telescope primary mirror is now fully unfolded, which successfully completes the mission’s major deployments. The starboard side of the primary mirror was released into place today, completing a two-week long, complex deployment sequence. The mirror of the most powerful space telescope ever built is now open, preparing to “unfold the Universe.”

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Here’s Why Webb Doesn’t Have Cameras on Board to Livestream its Deployment

Illustration of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope. Credits: NASA
Illustration of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope. Credits: NASA

As the James Webb Space Telescope unfolds and makes its way to its final destination in space, NASA and ESA have done a great job of sharing the experience with the public. With webcasts, livestreams and a very active social media presence, the JWST team has allowed people to watch over the shoulders of engineers and scientists, as well as ask questions about the process of commissioning the new telescope.

The most often asked question on social media and at several press conferences seems to be, why weren’t cameras put on JWST to provide actual live footage from the telescope? Wouldn’t seeing it firsthand be better than just receiving telemetry?

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JWST Deploys its Secondary Mirror. It’s a Real Telescope Now

Webb’s primary mirror intercepts red and infrared light traveling through space and reflects it onto a smaller secondary mirror. The secondary mirror then directs the light into the scientific instruments where it is recorded. Credits: IMAGE: STScI, Andi James (STScI)

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a telescope.

The secondary mirror on the James Webb Space Telescope was successfully deployed in space today, an incredibly important milestone.

“We are 600,000 miles from Earth and we have a telescope,” said Bill Ochs, JWST program manager, speaking triumphantly to his team after the secondary mirror was deployed and then latched in place.

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Success! Webb Sunshield Now Fully Deployed

Illustration of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope. Credits: NASA
Illustration of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope. Credits: NASA

If you felt a little more tension – and perhaps more goosebumps — in the Universe today, it’s probably because the James Webb Space Telescope’s sunshield is now completely and successfully deployed! All five layers of the sunshield have been fully extended and “tensioned” into the final taut, kite-shaped configuration. This is a huge accomplishment (and huge relief) for the entire international Webb mission

“This has been many years in the making, and is a really big moment for the entire team,” said the JWST mission operations manager after the final events to tension and latch the sunshield were confirmed. “There’s nothing cooler in space than JWST!”

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