The James-Webb Space Telescope has arrived at its destination

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Artist's impression of the James-Webb space telescope, which should provide a better understanding of the origins of the universe.

Almost a month after its launch, the James-Webb space telescope has reached its final orbit, 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, from which it will notably be able to observe the first galaxies in the universe, confirmed the NASA Monday January 24.

It activated its thrusters at about 8 p.m. in order to reach Lagrange point 2 or « L2 », ideal for observing the cosmos. “Welcome home, Webb!”, exclaimed the boss of the American space agency, Bill Nelson, in a press release. We have taken another step towards uncovering the mysteries of the universe. And I can’t wait to see Webb’s first new images of the universe this summer! »

At this carefully chosen orbit, the Earth, the Sun and the Moon will all be on the other side of its sun visor, which will ensure that it operates in the dark and in a very great cold, indispensable to the study of the first cosmic radiation via its infrared sensors.

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This is the third time that the telescope has operated its thrusters in this way since its launch aboard an Ariane 5 rocket on December 25.

A twenty-year mission

The great impulse provided by the rocket had indeed been deliberately minimized to prevent the instrument from overshooting its target, with no real hope of returning, and it still had to, by small successive pushes, place itself there by itself.

The duration of the mission could be twenty years, according to Keith Parrish, one of the project managers. One possibility, which is not currently being considered, would be for a future mission to go into space to supply the telescope with fuel.

The James Webb Telescope, whose cost to NASA is estimated at 10 billion dollars, is one of the most expensive pieces of scientific equipment ever built, comparable to its predecessor Hubble or the huge particle accelerator of the Organization European Union for Nuclear Research (CERN).

But while Hubble was placed in orbit around the Earth, Webb will orbit in the region of space called Lagrange point 2, where the gravitational forces of the Earth and the Sun are counterbalanced by the centrifugal force of the telescope, allowing a stable trajectory with less fuel usage.

In constant contact with the Earth

The new telescope will not be exactly at the L2 point but will oscillate around it in « halo » at a distance similar to that of the Earth and the Moon, on a six-month cycle.

Other space missions have previously been placed on L2, such as the Herschel infrared space telescope developed by the European Space Agency or a NASA satellite which was already intended to study the Big Bang.

James-Webb’s positioning will also allow him to stay in constant contact with Earth through the Deep Space Network, a network of three large antennas in Australia, Spain and California.

NASA had succeeded in early January to deploy the huge mirror of the telescope which will allow it to receive radiation emitted by the first stars and galaxies, formed more than 13.4 billion years ago, less than 400 million years after the Big Bang.

As the universe expands, this light travels further and further to reach the observer, and in doing so it “blushes”. As the sound of a moving object fades away, the light wave stretches and switches from the visible frequency to the naked eye to the infrared.

Explore exoplanets

However, Webb, unlike Hubble, is equipped to perceive these infrared signals, which will allow him to see not only older objects, but also the interstellar dust clouds that absorb starlight and hide them from Hubble’s gaze.

It must also take a big step in the exploration of exoplanets, orbiting stars other than the Sun. He will examine their atmosphere, looking for conditions conducive to the appearance of life.

Next step: its scientific instruments still need to cool down before being very precisely calibrated. Its first images should be transmitted in June or July.

The World with AFP

Artist’s impression of the James-Webb space telescope, which should provide a better understanding of the origins of the universe. AP Almost a month after its launch, the James-Webb space telescope has reached its final orbit, 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, from which it will notably be able to observe the…

Artist’s impression of the James-Webb space telescope, which should provide a better understanding of the origins of the universe. AP Almost a month after its launch, the James-Webb space telescope has reached its final orbit, 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, from which it will notably be able to observe the…

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