The Best Laid Plans: Europe’s Ambitious Launch Year Goes Awry Due to International Tensions, Schedule Delays

The James Webb Space Telescope lifted off on an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, at 13:20 CET on 25 December 2021 on its exciting mission to unlock the secrets of the Universe. (Credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

On Christmas Day 2021, an European Ariane 5 rocket roared off its launch pad in French Guiana with the most expensive payload the booster had ever carried, the $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope. The launcher performed perfectly, sending the most powerful space telescope on a journey to its final destination 1.5 million km (900 million miles) from Earth. The launch was so accurate that Webb should have sufficient propellant to perform science operations for much longer than its planned 10-year lifetime.

There was a collective sigh of relief among the European, American and Canadian scientists and engineers involved in the long-delayed program. It was a superb Christmas gift to a world suffering through the second year of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.

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NASA’s Webb Sheds Light on Galaxy Evolution, Black Holes

Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

NASA Mission Update

  • In an enormous new image, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope reveals never-before-seen details of galaxy group “Stephan’s Quintet”
  • The close proximity of Stephan’s Quintet gives astronomers a ringside seat to galactic mergers, interactions
  • Webb’s new image shows in rare detail how interacting galaxies trigger star formation in each other and how gas in galaxies is being disturbed
  • The image also shows outflows driven by a black hole in Stephan’s Quintet in a level of detail never seen before
  • Tight galaxy groups like this may have been more common in the early universe when superheated, infalling material may have fueled very energetic black holes

Stephan’s Quintet, a visual grouping of five galaxies, is best known for being prominently featured in the holiday classic film, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Today, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope reveals Stephan’s Quintet in a new light. This enormous mosaic is Webb’s largest image to date, covering about one-fifth of the Moon’s diameter. It contains over 150 million pixels and is constructed from almost 1,000 separate image files. The information from Webb provides new insights into how galactic interactions may have driven galaxy evolution in the early universe.

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NASA’s Webb Reveals Cosmic Cliffs, Glittering Landscape of Star Birth

Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

NASA Mission Update

  • NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope reveals emerging stellar nurseries and individual stars in the Carina Nebula that were previously obscured
  • Images of “Cosmic Cliffs” showcase Webb’s cameras’ capabilities to peer through cosmic dust, shedding new light on how stars form
  • Objects in the earliest, rapid phases of star formation are difficult to capture, but Webb’s extreme sensitivity, spatial resolution, and imaging capability can chronicle these elusive events

This landscape of “mountains” and “valleys” speckled with glittering stars is actually the edge of a nearby, young, star-forming region called NGC 3324 in the Carina Nebula. Captured in infrared light by NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope, this image reveals for the first time previously invisible areas of star birth.

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Galaxy Quest: See James Webb Space Telescope’s First Released Image

Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI
  • President Joe Biden unveiled this image of galaxy cluster SMACS 0723, known as Webb’s First Deep Field, during a White House event Monday, July 11
  • Webb’s image covers a patch of sky approximately the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length by someone on the ground – and reveals thousands of galaxies in a tiny sliver of vast universe
  • Webb’s sharp near-infrared view brought out faint structures in extremely distant galaxies, offering the most detailed view of the early universe to date
  • NASA and its partners will release the full series of Webb’s first full-color images and data, known as spectra, Tuesday, July 12, during a live NASA TV broadcast

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has produced the deepest and sharpest infrared image of the distant universe to date. Known as Webb’s First Deep Field, this image of galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 is overflowing with detail.

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Biden to Unveil First Webb Photo on Monday

Artist rending showing light reflecting off of the primary and secondary mirrors of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, after it has deployed in space. (Credits: NASA/Mike McClare)

President Joe Biden has decided to move up the unveiling of the first image from the James Webb Space Telescope to Monday at 5 p.m. He will unveil it from the White House with NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

A live stream of the event will be available on NASA TV. The image will be available simultaneously on NASA’s website.

NASA will unveil additional images as planned on Tuesday along with Canadian Space Agency and European Space Agency representatives.

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NASA Shares List of Cosmic Targets for Webb Telescope’s First Images

This image mosaic was created by pointing the telescope at a bright, isolated star in the constellation Ursa Major known as HD 84406. This star was chosen specifically because it is easily identifiable and not crowded by other stars of similar brightness, which helps to reduce background confusion. Each dot within the mosaic is labeled by the corresponding primary mirror segment that captured it. These initial results closely match expectations and simulations. (Credit: NASA)

NASA Mission Update

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, a partnership with ESA (European Space Agency) and CSA (Canadian Space Agency), will soon reveal unprecedented and detailed views of the universe, with the upcoming release of its first full-color images and spectroscopic data.

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NASA Updates Coverage for Webb Telescope’s First Images Reveal

Artist rending showing light reflecting off of the primary and secondary mirrors of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, after it has deployed in space. (Credits: NASA/Mike McClare)

NASA Mission Update

NASA, in partnership with ESA (European Space Agency) and CSA (Canadian Space Agency), will release the James Webb Space Telescope’s first full-color images and spectroscopic data during a live broadcast beginning at 10:30 a.m. EDT Tuesday, July 12, from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Released one by one, these first images from the world’s largest and most powerful space telescope will demonstrate Webb at its full power as it begins its mission to unfold the infrared universe.

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Nova “Ultimate Space Telescope” Chronicles the Dramatic Story of the James Webb Space Telescope

Engineers at Northrop Grumman Space Park in Redondo Beach, California, oversee Webb’s final mirror fold test in April 2021. The forward pallet structure is seen here in the foreground, in its unfolded state. (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

New one-hour special shows how NASA engineers built and launched the most ambitious telescope of all time, and the transformational discoveries this new eye on the universe has the power to uncover

BOSTON, July 1, 2022 (PBS PR) —The PBS science series NOVA, a production of GBH will premiere a one-hour special, ULTIMATE SPACE TELESCOPEWednesday, July 13 at 9pm ET/8C on PBS. The film, which will also be available for streaming online at PBS.org/nova, on NOVA’s YouTube channel, and on the PBS video app, tells the dramatic story of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the largest and most innovative space telescope ever built, designed to peer deeper back in time and space than humans ever have before. The special takes viewers behind the scenes through the eyes of the engineers and scientists who have dedicated years—some even decades—of their lives to getting Webb off the ground. And, the film will feature some of the telescope’s highly anticipated first images—the day after NASA releases them to the world—along with reactions from some of the team.   

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NASA to Set Up Independent Study on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA is commissioning a study team to start early in the fall to examine unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs) – that is, observations of events in the sky that cannot be identified as aircraft or known natural phenomena – from a scientific perspective. The study will focus on identifying available data, how best to collect future data, and how NASA can use that data to move the scientific understanding of UAPs forward.

The limited number of observations of UAPs currently makes it difficult to draw scientific conclusions about the nature of such events. Unidentified phenomena in the atmosphere are of interest for both national security and air safety. Establishing which events are natural provides a key first step to identifying or mitigating such phenomena, which aligns with one of NASA’s goals to ensure the safety of aircraft. There is no evidence UAPs are extra-terrestrial in origin.

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First Images From NASA’s Webb Space Telescope to be Released July 12

Artist rending showing light reflecting off of the primary and secondary mirrors of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, after it has deployed in space. (Credits: NASA/Mike McClare)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, a partnership with ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), will release its first full-color images and spectroscopic data on July 12, 2022. As the largest and most complex observatory ever launched into space, Webb has been going through a six-month period of preparation before it can begin science work, calibrating its instruments to its space environment and aligning its mirrors. This careful process, not to mention years of new technology development and mission planning, has built up to the first images and data: a demonstration of Webb at its full power, ready to begin its science mission and unfold the infrared universe.

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NASA’s Webb Program Director Named to TIME100 List

Greg Robinson, program director for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope at NASA Headquarters, gives a brief interview on NASA Television as he and the launch team monitor the countdown to Webb’s launch Dec. 25, 2021, at Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. Webb is a large infrared telescope with a 21.3-foot (6.5-meter) primary mirror. The observatory will study every phase of cosmic history – from within our solar system to the most distant observable galaxies in the early universe. (Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

WASHINGTON (NASA HQ PR) — The head of NASA’s largest space science mission has been named one of the most influential people in the world by TIME. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Program Director Gregory Robinson was named to the TIME100, the magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential leaders. Robinson shares this year’s recognition with other TIME100 honorees such as President Joe Biden and Oprah Winfrey.

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Webb’s Coldest Instrument Reaches Operating Temperature

MIRI, the mid-infrared camera and spectrograph (left), was installed in the science payload module of the James Webb Space Telescope (right) on 29 April 2013 at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. (Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn)

PARIS (ESA PR) — With help from a cryocooler, Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument has dropped down to just a few degrees above the lowest temperature matter can reach and is ready for calibration.

The James Webb Space Telescope will see the first galaxies to form after the Big Bang, but to do that its instruments first need to get cold – really cold. On 7 April, Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) – a joint development by ESA and NASA – reached its final operating temperature below 7 kelvins (minus 266 degrees Celsius).

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Cosmic Milestone: NASA Confirms 5,000 Exoplanets

What do planets outside our solar system, or exoplanets, look like? A variety of possibilities are shown in this illustration. Scientists discovered the first exoplanets in the 1990s. As of 2022, the tally stands at just over 5,000 confirmed exoplanets. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The count of confirmed exoplanets just ticked past the 5,000 mark, representing a 30-year journey of discovery led by NASA space telescopes.

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Not so long ago, we lived in a universe with only a small number of known planets, all of them orbiting our Sun. But a new raft of discoveries marks a scientific high point: More than 5,000 planets are now confirmed to exist beyond our solar system.

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NASA’s Webb Reaches Alignment Milestone, Optics Working Successfully

While the purpose of this image was to focus on the bright star at the center for alignment evaluation, Webb’s optics and NIRCam are so sensitive that the galaxies and stars seen in the background show up. At this stage of Webb’s mirror alignment, known as “fine phasing,” each of the primary mirror segments have been adjusted to produce one unified image of the same star using only the NIRCam instrument. This image of the star, which is called 2MASS J17554042+6551277, uses a red filter to optimize visual contrast. (Credits: NASA/STScI)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — Following the completion of critical mirror alignment steps, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope team expects that Webb’s optical performance will be able to meet or exceed the science goals the observatory was built to achieve.

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Webb Mirror Alignment Continues Successfully

Artist rending showing light reflecting off of the primary and secondary mirrors of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, after it has deployed in space. (Credits: NASA/Mike McClare)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — Webb continues on its path to becoming a focused observatory. The team has successfully worked through the second and third out of seven total phases of mirror alignment. With the completion of these phases, called Segment Alignment and Image Stacking, the team will now begin making smaller adjustments to the positions of Webb’s mirrors.

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