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The James Webb Space Telescope and Astronomy thread

Sun Dec 26, 2021 10:27 pm

I don't know if anyone ever visits here, but the JWST has launched. It's on it's way to the Earth-Sun L2 lagrange point, kind of in Earth's shadow, where space is slightly colder and where Earth will pull it along in a semi-stable orbit. It's going to remain roughly around the L2 point for the duration of it's mission, about a million miles from Earth. 4 times as far as the Moon.

Being so distant, it's going to be difficult to repair, though it has lots of onboard computers and some ability to repair itself and some redundancy built in incase some machinery fails, so some repairs can be conducted remotely.

It'll take about 1 month to get into position where it will be released from the rocket after which it will unfold. It's folded up because it's too large a telescope to fit inside a rocket. Unfolded, it's about the size of a tennis court.

Then it'll take about 6 months to align and calibrate it. It has, I think, 10 beryllium/gold mirrors that are good for capturing both IR and longer wavelength visible light. less good with blue light, but a lot can be seen in the yellow/orange/red and infra-red spectrums. Once the 10 mirrors are set up in near perfect alignment, then the party begins and astronomers will fight over telescope time. Assuming it correctly unfolds and works, of course.

It's going to study the formation of galaxies in the very distant, very early universe and it can get information about the atmospheres of planets in near-by solar systems. It may also capture an image of planet-9 assuming it's found by then. It's not a wide field, so it won't look for planet 9, but if it's found, it may be used to get a better somewhat image of it.

Years in the making and billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule. Nearly cancelled once. It's going to see things that have never been seen before. Something to look forward to in the 2nd half of 2022, for sure.
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