The space telescope reached Lagrange Point 2, 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, on January 24, almost a month after its launch on Christmas Day.
It is from this place that the instruments of the most complex space telescope ever created will observe the Universe. The operation of each of them will be checked over the next few days, while the telescope is four times farther from Earth than the Moon.
James Webb promises to revolutionize our understanding of the Universe. Born of a collaboration between the United States, Europe and Canada, theTJW was designed to observe the outer reaches of the cosmos even further than ever before.
One of its main objectives will be to detect the light of the very first stars and galaxies, which appeared more than 13.5 billion years ago, around 100 million years after the big bang, when the Universe was created. .
It will also make it possible to collect data on certain exoplanets, and perhaps to detect their atmosphere, to define their properties and to find biosignatures there. The telescope will also study, in unparalleled detail, distant galaxies, but also our galactic neighborhood, the planets of the solar system and its asteroid belts.
The telescope’s scientific instruments are housed in a metal frame the size of a dishwasher.
In the coming weeks, as the fine tuning of the telescope’s optical element is performed, Canada’s Precision Guidance Sensor will play a vital role in aligning the 18 golden hexagonal mirrors of the Webb Telescope. It will also serve as a cosmic navigator; it will point to bright stars to maintain telescope alignment.
Around the sixth month after its launch, at the end of the running-in period, the telescope will be stable and ready for its mission which should last between 5 and 10 years, but could also lengthen a little.
The other Canadian contribution is the NIRISS (Near Infrared Slitless Imager and Spectrograph) instrument. It will make it possible to study the most distant celestial objects in our Universe, but its spectroscopic sensitivity in the infrared will also allow it to study exoplanets as small as the Earth and their fine atmospheres. It will also be used to observe various astronomical objects, such as wandering planets and brown dwarfs.
The two Canadian elements were designed for the Canadian Space Agency by the company Honeywell. Infrared instrumentation experts from UdeM and the National Research Council of Canada helped build the instruments.
NASA provides the NIRCam, the near-infrared device that acts as the telescope’s main imaging system. The vast majority of images obtained with Webb will be taken by this camera.
NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) provide the MIRI. It is the only instrument that works in the mid-infrared. Qualified as very versatile, it will allow the observation of solar systems, including ours, but also of the primordial Universe.
The telescope captures light in the near and mid-infrared, which is not visible to the human eye. Its four scientific instruments have been specifically designed to observe this light, which travels much better in cosmic dust, which makes it possible to study very distant celestial objects advantageously, compared to what is possible to do in visible light, in X-rays, or even in ultraviolet radiation.