The James Webb Space Telescope reaches its final stop at a million miles | Space News

In addition to making stellar observations, Webb will scan the atmospheres of extraterrestrial worlds for possible signs of life.

The world’s largest and most powerful space telescope reached its final destination a million miles from Earth on Monday, a month after blasting off to witness the dawn of the universe.

On command, the James Webb Space Telescope fired its rocket boosters for nearly five minutes to orbit the sun at the designated location, and NASA confirmed the operation went according to plan.

The $10 billion observatory’s mirrors still need to be meticulously aligned and the infrared detectors sufficiently cooled before scientific observations can begin in June. But flight controllers from Baltimore in the United States were euphoric after scoring another success.

“We are about to uncover the mysteries of the universe. And I can’t wait to see the first new views of Webb’s universe this summer! NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement.

The telescope will allow astronomers to travel further back in time than ever before, to the formation of the first stars and galaxies 13.7 billion years ago. It’s barely 100 million years after the big bang, when the universe was created.

In addition to making stellar observations, Webb will scan the atmospheres of extraterrestrial worlds for possible signs of life.

The high-flying drama began days after takeoff.

A sunshade the size of a tennis court opened on the telescope in early January, 1.5 weeks after the December 25 launch from French Guiana. The observatory’s golden mirror – 6.4 m (21 ft) in diameter – unfolded a few days later.

Monday’s thruster launch put the telescope into orbit around the sun at the so-called second Lagrange point, where the sun’s and Earth’s gravitational forces balance each other. The seven-tonne spacecraft always faces the night side of Earth to keep its infrared detectors as cool as possible.

At 1.6 million kilometers (1 million miles), Webb is more than four times as far away as the moon.

Considered the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, which orbits 530 km (330 miles), Webb is too far away for emergency repairs. This makes the milestones of the past month – and those to come – all the more critical.

The spacewalk astronauts operated five times on Hubble. The first operation, in 1993, corrected the blurry vision of the telescope, a defect introduced during the construction of the ground mirror.

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