Nasa has kicked off its months-long process of focusing the James Webb space telescope.
The revolutionary new scope is a an international collaboration led by NASA in partnership with the European and Canadian space agencies. Once up and running the scope will provide a glimpse of the universe dating back billions of years.
However, before it can do it careful adjustments are needed to the scope.
The Engineers at Nasa’s Goddard space flight centre are spearheading the process. This week they sent the initial commands to James Webbs actuators. These tiny motors will slowly position, and then fine-tune the telescope’s primary mirror.
James Webb mirror is made up from eighteen hexagonal segments of gold-plated beryllium metal.
Now it is unfurled the mirror measures a huge 6.5 metres in diameter – a big step up from the 2.4 meter mirror on the the 30-year-old Hubble telescope.
In order to launch the 18 segments had been folded together to fit inside the cargo bay of the rocket. They have been slowly unfurled since Webb’s launch on Christmas Day. Now those segments will be detached from their launch configuration and slowly moved forward by about a 1cm over the next week a half before they are aligned to form a single light-collecting surface. This alignment process will take three months.
That means the telescope will be set to capture its first science images this May. The images take around a month to be received and processed. That means we should start to see the first image from Webb in June or July this year.
What is the James Webb Space Telescope
Image above – The James Webb Space Telescope pushed into the clean room of Building 32 which houses the thermal vacuum chamber where the telescope will have its final thermal vacuum testing.
The James Webb Space Telescope will be the world’s most advanced space observatory when it enters operation.
The Telescope is an engineering marvel and is designed to unravel some of the greatest mysteries of the universe.
Its mission will range from discovering the first stars and galaxies that formed after the big bang to studying the atmospheres of planets around other stars.
The telescope forms part of a joint project of NASA, ESA (the European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.