Webb Telescope Just Getting Started
By Sara Thompson
Special to the Enterprise
Named for the second NASA administrator, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) was launched just over a year ago on December 25, 2021. After its launch, it took about a month for it to reach its orbit in the Second Lagrange Point (L2), which is one million miles from Earth. This point is where three bodies (Sun, Earth, JWST) can orbit each other, but be able to stay in the same position. In this arrangement the Earth is between the Sun and the JWST. This will allow the telescope an unobstructed view of space in its orbit.
The James Webb Space Telescope has four main goals: 1) to search for light from the first stars and galaxies; 2) study galaxy formation and changes; 3) help further the understanding of star and planet formation; 4) and study the origins of life in planetary systems. The telescope’s primary function is to image infrared light. This is for many reasons including colder objects, such as planets, emit in infrared, much of the earliest light sources have transitioned into infrared, and infrared travel through dust particles easier than white light. Infrared will allow the JWST to detect objects 100 times dimmer than the Hubble Space Telescope.
In order to properly function and accurately capture infrared images the mirrors and imaging equipment on the JWST must be kept extremely cold, between -370 and -390o F. To maintain this temperature the camera is protected by a sunshield. The sunshield is made up of 5 thin layers of heat reflective material that redirect heat and light away from the delicate instruments. There is empty space between each layer to prevent heat transfer between the layers, which further reduces any heat reaching the telescope. The hot side of the sunshield is where the solar panel, communication equipment, steering, and computer are located, because those pieces of equipment are not bothered by the heat.
The first year of the James Webb Space Telescope was successful in producing incredible images and helping to advance our knowledge of the universe. The first of JWST’s images were released to the public in July 2022. The goal of this large and advanced piece of equipment is to take deep space images for the next five to ten years but will likely continue well beyond that.
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