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Photons Received: Webb Sees Its First Star – 18 Times

Monday, February 14th 2022 09:16 AM

  The James Webb Space Telescope is nearing completion of the first phase of the months-long process of aligning the observatory’s primary mirror using the Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) instrument. The team’s challenge was twofold: confirm that NIRCam was ready to collect light from celestial objects, and then identify starlight from the same star in each of the 18 primary mirror segments. The result is an image mosaic of 18 randomly organized dots of starlight, the product of Webb’s unaligned mirror segments all reflecting light from the same star back at Webb’s secondary mirror and into NIRCam’s detectors. What looks like a simple image of blurry starlight now becomes the foundation to align and focus the telescope in order for Webb to deliver unprecedented views of the universe this summer. Over the next month or so, the team will gradually adjust the mirror segments until the 18 images become a single star. “The entire Webb team is ecsta...

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  This week, the three-month process of aligning the telescope began – and over the last day, Webb team members saw the first photons of starlight that traveled through the entire telescope and were detected by the Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) instrument. This milestone marks the first of many steps to capture images that are at first unfocused and use them to slowly fine-tune the telescope. This is the very beginning of the process, but so far the initial results match expectations and simulations. A team of engineers and scientists from Ball Aerospace, Space Telescope Science Institute, and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center will now use data taken with NIRCam to progressively align the telescope. The team developed and demonstrated the algorithms using a 1/6th scale model telescope testbed. They have simulated and rehearsed the process many times and are now ready to do this with Webb. The process will take place in seven phases over the next three months, culmin...

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Orbital Insertion Burn a Success, Webb Arrives at L2

Tuesday, January 25th 2022 09:18 AM

  Today, at 2 p.m. EST, Webb fired its onboard thrusters for nearly five minutes (297 seconds) to complete the final postlaunch course correction to Webb’s trajectory. This mid-course correction burn inserted Webb toward its final orbit around the second Sun-Earth Lagrange point, or L2, nearly 1 million miles away from the Earth. The final mid-course burn added only about 3.6 miles per hour (1.6 meters per second) – a mere walking pace – to Webb’s speed, which was all that was needed to send it to its preferred “halo” orbit around the L2 point. “Webb, welcome home!” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “Congratulations to the team for all of their hard work ensuring Webb’s safe arrival at L2 today. We’re one step closer to uncovering the mysteries of the universe. And I can’t wait to see Webb’s first new views of the universe this summer!”   Webb’s orbit will allow it a wide view of...

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Hubble Sights a Sail of Stars

Friday, January 21st 2022 09:09 AM

  The spiral arms of the galaxy NGC 3318 are lazily draped across this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. This spiral galaxy lies in the constellation Vela and is roughly 115 million light-years away from Earth. Vela was originally part of a far larger constellation, known as Argo Navis after the fabled ship Argo from Greek mythology, but this unwieldy constellation proved to be impractically large. Argo Navis was split into three separate parts called Carina, Puppis, and Vela – each named after part of the Argo. As befits a galaxy in a nautically inspired constellation, the outer edges of NGC 3318 almost resemble a ship’s sails billowing in a gentle breeze.   Source: nasa.gov

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  Kepler-1229b is a planet 2.7 times the mass of Earth in the habitable zone of a red star. Studies indicate that zodiacal light might be visible from its surface, creating a red, almost lavalike glow in the night sky. One of the most coveted sights for skygazers is the zodiacal light, a tall cone of whitish light that climbs the mid-latitude sky before dawn in autumn and at twilight in the spring. The light comes from the Sun glinting off dust particles in the Solar System and the dust, it seems, originates from comets and possibly even from Mars. It turns out that anyone looking up on some exoplanets could see their own zodiacal light as well. In excess In research presented at the virtual 239th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society last week, Jian Ge of Shanghai Astronomical Observatory and Chinese Academy of Sciences — whose team included three high school students — described other solar systems where data suggest there exist debris disks that could gi...

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Tom Jacobs of Bellevue, Washington, loves treasure hunts. Since 2010, the former U.S. naval officer has participated in online volunteer projects that allow anyone who is interested — “citizen scientists” — to look through NASA telescope data for signs of exoplanets, planets beyond our solar system. Now, Jacobs has helped discover a giant gaseous planet about 379 light-years from Earth, orbiting a star with the same mass as the Sun. The Jupiter-size planet is special for astronomers because its 261-day year is long compared to many known gas giants outside our solar system. The result also suggests the planet is just a bit farther from its star than Venus is from the Sun. The finding was published in the Astronomical Journal and presented at an American Astronomical Society virtual press event on Jan. 13.   This illustration depicts a Jupiter-like exoplanet called TOI-2180 b. It was discovered in data from NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. U...

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Webb Begins Its Months-Long Mirror Alignment

Thursday, January 13th 2022 09:22 AM

  Webb has begun the detailed process of fine-tuning its individual optics into one huge, precise telescope. Engineers first commanded actuators – 126 devices that will move and shape the primary mirror segments, and six devices that will position the secondary mirror – to verify that all are working as expected after launch. The team also commanded actuators that guide Webb’s fine steering mirror to make minor movements, confirming they are working as expected. The fine steering mirror is critical to the process of image stabilization. Ground teams have now begun instructing the primary mirror segments and secondary mirror to move from their stowed-for-launch configuration, off of snubbers that kept them snug and safe from rattling from vibration. These movements will take at least ten days, after which engineers can begin the three-month process of aligning the segments to perform as a single mirror. Learn more about Webb at: webb.nasa.gov   Sou...

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James Webb Space Telescope successfully unfolds mirrors

Wednesday, January 12th 2022 09:38 AM

  Engineers at the Space Telescope Science Institute celebrate the successful deployment of the James Webb Space Telescope. NASA has pulled off the most technically audacious part of bringing its newest flagship observatory online: unfolding it. On Saturday, Jan. 8, the operations team for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) announced that the observatory’s primary mirror had successfully unfolded its segments — the last major step of the telescope's complicated deployment. The moment was a euphoric moment of validation for the entire team. “We’re on an incredible high right now,” said Bill Ochs, JWST’s project manager, at a press conference. “Today represents the beginning of a journey for this incredible machine, to its discoveries that we'll be making in the future.” To fit inside the nose cone of the Ariane 5 rocket that launched it, the telescope had been designed to fold up, origami-style, and unfold once in space. The a...

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NASA Plans Coverage of Webb Space Telescope Deployments

Thursday, December 30th 2021 12:52 PM

  Thousands of parts must work correctly, in sequence, to unfold NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope into its final configuration, all while it flies to a destination nearly 1 million miles away. Over about the next two weeks, NASA will provide broadcast coverage, a media briefing, and other updates on major deployment milestones for the James Webb Space Telescope, the world’s largest and most powerful space science telescope. Broadcasts of milestone events will air live on NASA TV, the NASA app, and the agency’s website. Webb, an international partnership with the ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency, launched Dec. 25 from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. The observatory had been folded up, origami style, to fit inside an Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket for launch. Webb is now in the complex and intricate process of unfolding in space, as it travels nearly 1 million miles to its destination, the second Lagrange point or L2....

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After a successful launch of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Dec. 25, and completion of two mid-course correction maneuvers, the Webb team has analyzed its initial trajectory and determined the observatory should have enough propellant to allow support of science operations in orbit for significantly more than a 10-year science lifetime. (The minimum baseline for the mission is five years.) The analysis shows that less propellant than originally planned for is needed to correct Webb’s trajectory toward its final orbit around the second Lagrange point known as L2, a point of gravitational balance on the far side of Earth away from the Sun. Consequently, Webb will have much more than the baseline estimate of propellant – though many factors could ultimately affect Webb’s duration of operation. Webb has rocket propellant onboard not only for midcourse correction and insertion into orbit around L2, but also for necessary functions during the life of the mission,...

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