Days pass before NASA’s new massive observatory shows us the cosmos as we’ve never seen it before.
The James Webb Space Telescope is undergoing a complicated six-month start-up period. With just a few more weeks of work to go, NASA and its partners released an update on Monday (May 9) previewing what’s next for Webb as he prepares to look into the early universe.
The good news is that, so far, the $10 billion observatory is exceeding expectations as it enters a long-anticipated stretch of scientific work that mission staff hope will last up to 20 years.
“There are no adjustments to the telescope’s optics that would make material or scientific performance improvements, and we will monitor and maintain the telescope’s alignment regularly throughout the life of the mission,” said Michael McElwain, project scientist for the Webb Observatory at the Flight Center. NASA Goddard Space Station in Maryland. he told reporters on Monday.
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But some key adjustments will be required over the next couple of months as engineers complete the last 200 activities (of about 1,000 total commissioning steps) to get Webb ready for work. “We will characterize the performance of each science instrument mode well enough to know how to carry science-quality data with it,” McElwain said, adding that some of this work will continue during the early science period.
McElwain noted that there are 17 science instrument modes coming online in the next two months. A new tracker on NASA’s Webb main website allows the public to follow the progress of testing all 17 modes.
“Each of those modes have different criteria that we’re looking at; we want to see performance being met,” McElwain said. “Each of these modes will be reviewed independently,” he added. “We will have a board that will do the review.”
In addition, Webb’s operational capabilities will be tested, especially its ability to track objects within our own solar system, which move much faster in the telescope’s view than distant objects, as well as the observatory’s ability to maintain a precise alignment. as you change targets. In addition, wavelength calibration will be performed to ensure that Webb is correctly recording the luminosity and spectra (a “fingerprint” of light that allows scientists to identify which elements are present) of its targets.
McElwain emphasized that “static wavefront error,” a metric of how well the observatory performs at collecting light from distant objects, is much better than what engineers calculated before launch.
Simply put, the telescope is performing with better accuracy and position than expected.
“We’re actually doing much better than the requirements,” he said.