NASA’s new space telescope nears destination in solar orbit
NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, designed to give the world an unprecedented glimpse into the earliest stages of the universe, neared its gravitational parking space on Monday in orbit around the sun, almost 1 million miles from Earth.
Afghan Voice Agency(AVA)_With a final course-correcting maneuver by onboard rocket thrusters set for 2 p.m. EDT (1900 GMT), Webb is expected to reach its destination at a position of orbital stability between the Earth and sun known as Lagrange Point Two, or L2, arriving one month after launch.
The thrusters will be activated by mission control engineers at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, and the ground team will use radio signals to confirm when Webb has been successfully “inserted” into orbit, said Eric Smith, ’s_program scientist for Webb.
From its vantage point in space, Webb will follow a special path in constant alignment with Earth, as the planet and telescope circle the sun in tandem, enabling uninterrupted radio contact.
By comparison, Webb’s 30-year-old predecessor, the Hubble , orbits the Earth from 340 miles (547 km) away, passing in and out of the planet’s shadow every 90 minutes.
The combined pull of the sun and Earth at L2 can hold the telescope firmly in place so it takes little additional rocket thrust to keep Webb from drifting.
Utilized by several other deep-space satellites over the years, and L2 position allows a “minimum amount of fuel to stay in orbit,” Smith said.
The operations center has also begun fine-tuning the telescope’s primary mirror – an array of 18 hexagonal segments of gold-coated beryllium metal measuring 21 feet, 4 inches (6.5 meters) across – far larger than Hubble’s main mirror.
Its size and design to operate mainly in the infrared spectrum will allow Webb to peer through clouds of gas and dust and observe objects at greater distances, thus farther back in time, than or any other telescope.
These features are expected to usher in a revolution in astronomy, giving the first view of infant galaxies dating to just 100 million years after the Big Bang, the theoretical flashpoint that set the expansion of the known universe in motion and estimated 13.8 billion years ago.
Webb’s instruments also make it ideal to search for signs of potentially life-supporting atmospheres around scores of newly documented exoplanets – celestial bodies orbiting distant stars – and to observe worlds much closer to homes, such as Mars and Saturn’s icy moon Titan.