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Piercing The Veil: The James Webb Space Telescope

Looking further into space than ever before.

By Chris Wilkinson Tue 15 Mar, 2022 3:24 PM - Last Updated: Thu 17 Mar, 2022 3:09 PM
For hundreds of years we’ve looked out to the stars with wonder, developing better and better methods of looking up into that dark space above.

It has a lineage starting with the first astronomers who discovered each of the planets in our solar system (including Pluto), to those who monitor the skies with radio telescopes today, hoping to hear something from out there or pick up a signal that tells us there is other intelligent life.

In more recent times, we’ve had satellites in orbit to help with this. The most well know, the Hubble Space Telescope, has since 1990, taken some amazing images of space.Eagle%20Nebula
Hubble's Iconic Eagle Nebula
It’s looked at things both within our own solar system, but also those outside, such as the Eagle nebula, one of the Hubble's most iconic images.

While the orbiting telescope has operated for 32 years, it’s spiritual successor is the new Next Generation Telescope, a joint venture between NASA, ESA and CSA and which has been named the James Webb Space Telescope, after the second administrator of NASA.

This new satellite is designed to be able to see objects out in space which are both too old and far too distant for the Hubble to see. This will give us a greater understanding of the universe that we live in.

It was originally designed back in 1996 and was scheduled to launch in 2007. Delays and setbacks pushed this back almost fourteen James%20Webb%20Space%20Telescope
The James Webb Space Telescope
years but it finally launched on Christmas Day in 2021 and currently sits in a solar orbit in the L2 Lagrange point for the Sun and Earth.

It’s made up of 18 hexagonal mirrors which will each focus an image onto the secondary mirror, which will then send it to the scientific instruments. Compared to Hubble, this will work more on the infra-red spectrum requiring the satellite be kept very cool. Due to that, it has 5 layers of sun shield sitting below the mirror to protect it from heat generated by the Sun, Earth and Moon. This lets the mirrors cool down to the operating temperature of under 50k kelvin.

Due to it's complexity it also has one of the slowest deployment regimes and as of right now, is still in the process of going through Step 4, the Coarse Phasing, with another 3 steps to go before they start to calibrate the instruments on board.

Once it’s complete, I’m sure we’ll see some fantastic imagines coming from this up and coming satellite. If you want to follow it’s current progress, you can do so here on NASA’s website.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the James Webb Space Telescope or on any upcoming missions in the comments below.

WRITTEN BY Chris Wilkinson


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