James Webb Space Telescope

Webb telescope success


Artist conception of the James Webb Space Telescope in space and fully deployed.

The James Webb Space Telescope, shown in this artist’s illustration, successfully unfolded its mirrors and sunshield after launch.Credit: Adriana Manrique Gutierrez/NASA GSFC/CIL

Webb observatory is now officially a telescope

After several tense days of unfurling and clicking its various parts into place, the biggest and most sophisticated space telescope ever launched is now complete.

On 8 January, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope slowly swung the last 3 of its 18 hexagonal mirror segments into position, locking them together into one 6.5-metre-wide, gold-coated cosmic eye. The move capped an essentially flawless two weeks of engineering manoeuvres since the telescope’s 25 December launch.

The US$10-billion observatory still has many important tasks, such as calibrating its 4 scientific instruments. But it has finished the riskiest engineering moves, without which it would have been inoperable. Those include deploying a kite-shaped, tennis-court-sized sunshield to shade the telescope from the Sun’s heat, and positioning its primary and secondary mirrors to capture light from stars, galaxies and other cosmic objects.

Photons are now bouncing between Webb’s mirrors, making it an operational observatory. “This is unbelievable,” said Bill Ochs, NASA’s project manager for Webb, in a 5 January webcast from mission control at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. “We actually have a telescope.”

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