The space organizations Nasa and Esa are more than satisfied: since the launch on December 25, 2021, the James Webb Space Telescope has passed all tests with flying colors. The first detailed photos are due to be released in mid-July.
Satisfied, proud and a little enthusiastic: this is how scientists from the American space agency Nasa and the European space agency ESA reported on Monday evening on the state of the James Webb space telescope. The joint international project with Canada has so far removed all obstacles. The instruments reached their operating temperature at minus 220 degrees Celsius and even cooler. The 18 honeycomb mirrors can be perfectly aligned. Although this can be calculated under terrestrial conditions, it can only be tested to a limited extent. And it was actually more accurate than expected in zero gravity at 1.5 million miles. There, at the so-called second Lagrange point, the gravity of the earth and the sun balance each other out and the space telescope assumes a more or less constant position. Mirror honeycombs are now continuously monitored and their position corrected every two days if necessary.
Nevertheless is Paid content the new “Eye of Humanity” has not yet been put into operation. Because in addition to mirrors, all instruments now have to be checked and calibrated. In addition, all tens of thousands of possible computer commands are sent and the reaction is tested. It will take a few more weeks. But even in this phase, the first recordings and scientific analyzes are part of the test program. NASA and Esa experts announced it on Monday evening: the first spectacular recordings will be published in mid-July. The aim is to show what can be achieved with international cooperation. Especially in times of global tension. But also to get people excited about astronomy and the cosmos, as the Hubble Space Telescope did nearly 30 years ago.
The images, which will be released in mid-July, should cover the full spectrum of the infrared telescope. And that includes records just a few hundred million years after the Big Bang, when our universe formed 13.6 billion years ago. An open question is how galaxies developed back then in the “small hours” of the cosmos. And what exactly were the first stars of those early years made of? But we also want to know what can be found in the centers of young and “old” galaxies as well as in our Milky Way.
But the infrared telescope will also study planets around distant suns in our vicinity: as in the Trappist system, nearly 40 light years away. “Webb” will be able to analyze the atmosphere of these distant worlds. The hope is to find traces of water or carbon compounds. That would be a clear indication that life at least seems possible there.
And in our solar system, the space telescope is designed to study the icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn. To do this, however, “Webb” must be able to not only focus on these objects, but also track them over a longer period of time. The tests for this also passed with flying colors. Soon nothing will prevent the space telescope from fully opening its “eyes” and broadening our horizons.