The James Webb Space Telescope is finally ready to do science -
Jun 21, 2022 2 mins, 7 secs

NASA is scheduled to release the first images taken by the James Webb Space Telescope on July 12, 2022.

They'll mark the beginning of the next era in astronomy as Webb — the largest space telescope ever built — begins collecting scientific data that will help answer questions about the earliest moments of the universe and allow astronomers to study exoplanets in greater detail than ever before.

Related: NASA's James Webb Space Telescope mission: Live updates.

After the successful launch of the James Webb Space Telescope on Dec.

25, 2021, the team began the long process of moving the telescope into its final orbital position, unfolding the telescope and — as everything cooled — calibrating the cameras and sensors onboard.

This will allow Webb to operate for much longer (opens in new tab) than the mission’s initial 10-year goal.

This went along without any hitches, starting with the white-knuckle deployment of the sun shield (opens in new tab) that helps cool the telescope, followed by the alignment of the mirrors and the turning on of sensors!

The cameras on Webb cooled just as the engineers predicted, and the first instrument the team turned on was the Near Infrared Camera — or NIRCam.

NIRCam is designed to study the faint infrared light produced by the oldest stars or galaxies (opens in new tab) in the universe.

Once NIRCam cooled to minus 280 degrees Fahrenheit, it was cold enough to start detecting light reflecting off of Webb's mirror segments and produce the telescope's first images.

This sensor helps keep the telescope pointing steadily at a target — much like image stabilization in consumer digital cameras.

As the mirror alignment wrapped up on March 11, the Near Infrared Spectrograph — NIRSpec — and the Near Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph — NIRISS — finished cooling and joined the party.

Radio astronomers have found hints that there are galaxies completely hidden by dust and undetectable by telescopes like Hubble (opens in new tab) that captures wavelengths of light similar to those visible to the human eye.

When this sensitivity is combined with Webb's large mirror, it allows MIRI to penetrate these dust clouds and reveal the stars and structures (opens in new tab) in such galaxies for the first time.

After July 12, the James Webb Space Telescope will start working full-time on its science mission!

Marcia Rieke is the Principal Investigator for the Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) for the James Webb Space Telescope and a Regents Professor of Astronomy at the University of Arizona.

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