The James Webb Telescope fires thrusters to reach final stop a million miles from Earth and begins orbiting the Sun | Science and technology news
The world’s most powerful space telescope has reached its final stop – a million miles from Earth – a month after launching on its historic voyage.
The James Webb telescope fired rocket engines for about five minutes in a final course correction to enter orbit around the Sun, with NASA confirming it had gone according to plan.
Air traffic controllers in Baltimore celebrated, and NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said it meant “we’re one step closer to unveiling the mysteries of the universe.”
James Webb will look further into the past than ever before, to the formation of the first galaxies and stars 13.7 billion years ago.
It will also look for signs of extraterrestrial life.
The new observatory is significantly larger than its predecessor, the Hubble Telescope, and features a 6.5-metre gold-coated mirror and a sunshade the size of a tennis court.
The £7.5 billion telescope – named after a former NASA boss – was launched on Christmas Day from French Guiana and was decades in development.
The mirror folded into the nose of the rocket for launch was it successfully deployed a few weeks ago.
During the last stop on Monday, the telescope was deployed at the second Lagrange point – or L2, where the gravitational forces of the Sun and Earth balance.
“The final mid-course burn only added about 3.6 miles per hour (1.6 meters per second) – a mere walking pace – to Webb’s speed, which was all it took to set it on his preferred ‘halo ‘ orbit around the L2 point,” NASA said.
Space Agency scientists say the gravitational pull of the Sun and Earth will hold the telescope in place and that little additional rocket thrust is required.
It will always face the night side of Earth to keep its infrared detectors as cold as possible.
Observations from the telescope will not begin until June.
The mirror consists of 18 segments, which now need to be carefully aligned to get the right focus.
Ground teams also spend several months activating and calibrating instruments such as the camera and spectrograph.
The James Webb project is being led by NASA in partnership with the European and Canadian space agencies.