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Beyond Hubble – adventure begins for James Webb Space Telescope

• Follow Webb on Social Media: HASHTAGS #UnfoldTheUniverse #NASAWebb

• Follow the adventure on NASA’s JWST blog

• Track the space observatory on NASA’s JWST mission dashboard

Much media buzz this morning on launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)


The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is a space telescope developed by NASA with contributions from the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). It is planned to succeed the Hubble Space Telescope as NASA’s flagship mission in astrophysics. JWST was launched on 25 December 2021 on Ariane flight VA256. It is designed to provide improved infrared resolution and sensitivity over Hubble, and will enable a broad range of investigations across the fields of astronomy and cosmology, including observing some of the most distant events and objects in the universe, such as the formation of the first galaxies, and providing detailed atmospheric characterization of potentially habitable exoplanets.

In ancient Egypt our Sun was revered, as both life-giver and deity. Temples and monuments were raised to connect with the sun god (Ra).

His worship increased massively in the Fifth Dynasty, when Ra became a state-deity and pharaohs had specially aligned pyramids, obelisks, and sun temples built in his honor.

The pharaoh Khufu built the Great Pyramid of Giza (the geographically aligned, shimmering “horizon of Khufu”) to ensure his divine connection into the hereafter.

In recent decades, using Big Science, we pursue our connection with the Sun beyond horizons of land & sky and into space. With spacecraft like the Parker Solar Probe, which “touches” the Sun; and the James Webb Space Telescope, which will orbit around a Sun-Earth gravitational balance point – like the ancient equipoise of heavenly throne and Earth. (In both cases relying on a sunshield to operate.)

we dream beyond horizons
of land & sky,
and launch into deeper arcs
of scales for why

• YouTube > ESA > “Webb separation from Ariane 5” (Dec 30, 2021) – This real-time video shows the separation of the James Webb Space Telescope from the Ariane 5 launch vehicle and the subsequent solar array deployment.


🚀 This BBC article contains a helpful chart comparing the JWST with the Hubble. See the article for content cited below.

• BBC > “James Webb Space Telescope lifts off on historic mission – BBC News” by Jonathan Amos (December 25, 2021)

(video caption) Lift-off: Watch the moment the James Webb Space Telescope is launched.

(video caption) Watch: BBC science editor Rebecca Morelle explains how the James Webb Space Telescope will work.

(video caption) Mark McCaughrean [senior science adviser with the European Space Agency]: ‘We’ll get wonderful pictures from James Webb.”

(image caption) An image taken from the top of the Ariane as Webb separates to begin the next phase of its journey.

(graphic caption) How James Webb will see back intime.

The article also contains links to background information:

  • A $10bn machine in search of the end of darkness
  • The lowdown on the most powerful space telescope
  • Hubble successor faces ‘two weeks of terror’

🚀 Like the Great Pyramid of Giza (Khufu’s), this space telescope project took ~30 years and employed 10’s of thousands of people.[1]

• Washington Post > “NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope launches in French Guiana” by Joel Achenbach (December 25, 2021)

That NASA chose to forge ahead with a Christmas launch was a sign of how seriously the agency and the global scientific community take this $10 billion mission, the long-delayed successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. Officials had challenging discussions about launching on a holiday, and amid the rapid spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, but decided to go on the first possible day. After two technical problems and one weather delay, that turned out to be Dec. 25.

Melroy [NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy] put a positive spin on it: “It’s not bad that it’s happening on Christmas Day, which should be a day of hope and inspiration.”

The separation from the final booster provided a stunning — and, for humanity, probably the final — view of the Webb. A camera on the upper stage of the rocket captured the rear end of the Webb receding, with Earth on the right side of the frame.

The predawn streets and elevated highways of Baltimore were empty, but by 6 a.m. the Space Telescope Science Institute was bustling. Some news media and scientists dropped out in recent days as the omicron variant spread, and so the hoopla was limited. Visitors were handed KN95 masks and told to take rapid coronavirus tests.

“Look farther, delve deeper and measure more precisely, and you’re bound to detect something new and wondrous,” said Kenneth Sembach, director of the telescope institute. “It is a gift to everyone who contemplates the vastness of the universe.

Tens of thousands of people have committed over 20 years or more on a single project,” Matt Mountain, an astronomer who is part of the team that designed the telescope, said at the telescope institute just minutes before launch Saturday. “And why? Why have they committed this time? We solve incredibly hard problems. It’s part of the human spirit. We’re curious. We explore.”

(video caption) NASA’s space telescope launched on Dec. 25 and will capture light from first stars and study distant worlds. (Reuters)

🚀 A mission of discovery …

• NASA > Press Releases > Release 21-175 > “NASA’s Webb Telescope Launches to See First Galaxies, Distant Worlds” (Dec 25, 2021)

(image caption) NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope launched Dec. 25 at 7:20 a.m. EST on an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, on the northeastern coast of South America. Webb, a partnership with the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency, will explore every phase of cosmic history – from within our solar system to the most distant observable galaxies in the early universe.
Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls

“The James Webb Space Telescope represents the ambition that NASA and our partners maintain to propel us forward into the future,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “The promise of Webb is not what we know we will discover; it’s what we don’t yet understand or can’t yet fathom about our universe. I can’t wait to see what it uncovers!”

I want to congratulate the team on this incredible achievement – Webb’s launch marks a significant moment not only for NASA, but for thousands of people worldwide who dedicated their time and talent to this mission over the years,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Webb’s scientific promise is now closer than it ever has been. We are poised on the edge of a truly exciting time of discovery, of things we’ve never before seen or imagined.”

NASA Headquarters oversees the mission for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages Webb for the agency and oversees work on the mission performed by the Space Telescope Science Institute, Northrop Grumman, and other mission partners. In addition to Goddard, several NASA centers contributed to the project, including the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, and others.

🚀 “Launch kicked off a long journey for the $10 billion observatory.”

• Space.com > “’29 days on the edge:’ What’s next for NASA’s newly launched James Webb Space Telescope” by Mike Wall (Dec 26, 2021)

“The Webb observatory has 50 major deployments … and 178 release mechanisms to deploy those 50 parts,” Webb Mission Systems Engineer Mike Menzel, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a deployment-explaining video called “29 Days on the Edge” that the agency posted in October.

“Every single one of them must work,” Menzel said. “Unfolding Webb is hands-down the most complicated spacecraft activity we’ve ever done.

The following is a brief rundown of the big steps yet to come. (For more detail, see NASA’s Webb deployment site.) The timelines given are approximate; Webb team members have stressed that the deployment schedule is flexible, so don’t panic if the times and dates shift a bit, or if some things occur out of order.


• Scientific American > “What Is a Lagrange Point?” by Clara Moskowitz, Matthew Twombly (January 2022) – NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope will travel to a special spot where the gravity from Earth and the sun is balanced.

Article includes two helpful astronomical graphics regarding Lagrange points (L1 – L5) and timeline for the journey to its operational orbit.

See also Wiki: Lagrange point

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Celebrating Hubble – 30th anniversary year


[1] As visualized in the PBS NOVA documentary “Decoding the Great Pyramid” – an ancient Egyptian project which, like the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), took ~30 years and employed 10’s of thousands of people.

• PBS > NOVA > “Decoding the Great Pyramid” – Season 46 Episode 4

Decoding the Great Pyramid

New archeological evidence sheds light on the stunning engineering of the Great Pyramid of Giza.

RUNTIME: 53:10

The 6 million-ton Great Pyramid of Giza is the last surviving wonder of the ancient world. How did the Egyptians engineer the mighty pharaoh Khufu’s tomb so precisely, with none of today’s surveying and power tools?

And who were the thousands of laborers who raised the stones? Were they slaves or volunteers, and how were they housed, fed, and organized?

“Decoding the Great Pyramid” presents the latest evidence from groundbreaking archaeological research that has transformed our understanding of the ancient world’s most ambitious engineering project, revealing a “lost city” and intimate details of the lives of the laborers and officials who toiled on the vast construction.

Amazingly, French archaeologists recently found the logbook of a labor team that delivered limestone blocks to build the Great Pyramid, yielding crucial insights into the planning and logistics behind the operation.

Beyond these construction secrets, “Decoding the Great Pyramid” traces how mobilizing the colossal labor and resources invested in the monument transformed ancient Egypt, uniting a nation behind the common goal of ensuring eternity for the pharaoh and continuing prosperity for everyone in this life and the next.

5 thoughts on “Beyond Hubble – adventure begins for James Webb Space Telescope

  1. 🚀 This APOD contains what will be undoubtedly an iconic image. As well as other useful links for more information on the JWST mission.

    • NASA > APOD > “James Webb Space Telescope over Earth” (December 26, 2021)

    (caption) James Webb Space Telescope over Earth

    Image Credit: Arianespace, ESA, NASA, CSA, CNES

    Explanation: There’s a big new telescope in space. This one, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), not only has a mirror over five times larger than Hubble’s in area, but can see better in infrared light.

    The featured picture shows JWST high above the Earth just after being released by the upper stage of an Ariane V rocket, launched yesterday from French Guiana.

    Over the next month, JWST will move out near the Sun-Earth L2 point where it will co-orbit the Sun with the Earth.

    During this time and for the next five months, JWST will unravel its segmented mirror and an array of sophisticated scientific instruments — and test them.

    If all goes well, JWST will start examining galaxies across the universe and planets orbiting stars across our Milky Way Galaxy in the summer of 2022.

    • NASA > Webb Space Telescope > Media Kit (PDF)

  2. This APOD includes a timelapse image of the JWST moving against background stars. And a description of its planned halo orbit.

    JWST on the Road to L2

    Image Credit & Copyright: Malcolm Park (North York Astronomical Association)

    Explanation: This timelapse gif tracks the James Webb Space Telescope as it streaks across the stars of Orion on its journey to a destination beyond the Moon.

    Recorded on December 28, 12 consecutive exposures each 10 minutes long were aligned and combined with a subsequent color image of the background stars to create the animation.

    About 2.5 days after its December 25 launch, JWST cruised past the altitude of the Moon’s orbit as it climbed up the gravity ridge from Earth to reach a halo orbit around L2, an Earth-Sun Lagrange point.

    Lagrange points are convenient locations in space where the combined gravitational attraction of one massive body (Earth) orbiting another massive body (Sun) is in balance with the centripetal force needed to move along with them. So much smaller masses, like spacecraft, will tend to stay there.

    One of 5 Lagrange points, L2 is about 1.5 million kilometers from Earth directly along the Earth-Sun line. JWST will arrive at L2 on January 23, 29 days after launch. While relaxing in Earth’s surface gravity you can follow the James Webb Space Telescope’s progress and complicated deployment online.

  3. A notable milestone for the James Webb.

    • BBC News > “James Webb: ‘Fully focused’ telescope beats expectations” by Jonathan Amos, Science correspondent (March 16, 2022)

    Lee Feinberg, the Nasa engineer who has led the development of Webb’s optical elements, described the release of the first properly focused image

    “You not only see the star and the spikes from the diffraction of the star, but you see other stars in the field that are tightly focused, just like we expect, and all sorts of other interesting structure in the background,” he told reporters.

    “We now have achieved what’s called ‘diffraction limited alignment‘ of the telescope: The images are focused together as finely as the laws of physics allow,” said Marshall Perrin who works on Webb at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.

    The alignment work was conducted using one specific instrument on Webb – its main camera system known as NIRCam [1]. Engineers will now have to check this set-up works for the three other instrument packages on Webb as well.

    Webb is seeing the star at a wavelength of two microns [2000 nanometers]. This is in the infrared; it’s not light that would be seen by the human eye. The red colouration is for contrast.

    Info graphic

    (image credit) Media Kit > http://www.nasa.gov) – EM spectrum comparison: JWST near and mid-infrared vs. Hubble UV, visible and near-infrared.


    [1] From NASA’s Media Kit (Rev 1.07):

    Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam)

    NIRCam provides high-resolution imaging and spectroscopy for a wide variety of investigations. NIRCam is Webb’s primary imager and operates over a wavelength range of 0.6 to 5 microns, where dust becomes transparent. NIRCam is equipped with coronagraphs, instruments that allow astronomers to take pictures of very faint, dim objects around a central bright object by blocking the bright light source, useful in investigations seeking to determine characteristics of planets orbiting nearby stars. NIRCam was built by a team at the University of Arizona and Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Technology Center.

  4. A major milestone for the James Webb Space Telescope.

    • Space.com > “Sharp pictures! James Webb Space Telescope completes alignment in huge milestone” by Elizabeth Howell (April 28, 2022) – The Webb team can now proceed with science instrument commissioning.

    The James Webb Space Telescope finished its alignment phase after demonstrating it can capture “crisp, well-focused images” with all four of its science instruments, the agency announced Wednesday (April 28).

    The milestone, which NASA showcased with some new Webb images, allows the mission team to proceed with science instrument commissioning. The telescope will thus enter a new phase of preparation after several months of mirror and instrument alignments. This next step will take roughly two months, with Webb remaining on track to finish in June if everything goes to plan.

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