The The Webb Space Telescope has completed its complex mirror implementation this week, and observatory becomes temptingly near the end of his journey to L2, where he will orbit the Sun. And million miles away from Earth.
Webb travels to another Lagrange point, a position in space that will allow the telescope to use minimal fuel to stay in place. From L2, the telescope will observe early space and exoplanets in infrared and near-infrared wavelengths. The telescope is expected to rearrange our understanding of the birth and evolution of the universe, because it will peek further back in the time since the Hubble Space Telescope, Webb’s predecessor, which was launched in 1990.
The web rocketed into space December 25 from French Guiana and has since traveled 860,000 miles. During this journey, the telescope was constantly evolvinging; to be practical for the launch, the engineers had to assemble it like a caterpillar in a rock. Careful steps, that have developed his sun shield and arranged his mirrors, sthe last step completely completed this week.
Webb has 18 primary mirror segments (the primary mirror is a large honeycomb structure standing perpendicular to sun visor) and a secondary mirror; the mirror segments are adjustable and had to be individually moved from their launch configuration to their positions for scientific observations. NASA administrator Bill Nelson confirmed completed the installation of the mirror on Wednesday.
Tiny incremental adjustments to the mirror position will occur over the next few months to get everything in real optical alignments for observation, according to Webb implementation schedule. But now the deployment is over, only one main one the step remains: fuel burns to insert the telescope into the L2. This is the last combustion of fuel that Webb has consumed during his schedule, although future incineration will occasionally occur to correct the telescope’s orbit.
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The telescope should be orbiting L2 by January 23, after which it will have five months of commissioning to prepare it for scientific observations. The telescope’s million-mile journey is just the preamble to a brilliant scientific career, which could last some 20 years.