James Webb Space Telescope’s First Images

SMACS 0723

Oh my word! The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), exceeded expectations for so many, including me. We are looking at light that has traveled 13.9 billion years to the present. It is a very exciting time in our lives. Energies from Uranus, the planet of breakthroughs, came through with spectacular views of our beginnings. I am so excited, for I’ve been following the process of manufacturing this awesome telescope for a decade. We thought Hubble was sending phenomenal images, but this is other worldly. Lets analyze what we are seeing with our very own eyes, starting with the telescope. Wow!

The JWST was a stellar idea made manifest in the Ames Research Dept. The launch was delayed several times. If I recall correctly, the original anticipated launch was back in 2015. Greg Robinson, JWST’s program director spoke on how elated they were to “share this special day with the world” (NASA 2022). The program was a collaborative effort with The European Space Agency (ESA), the  Canadian Space Agency (CSA), Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, and the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL). Each team is composed of experts in their respective fields. 

Ten years in the making, the telescope was manufactured in a sterile environment comparable to an operating room. Technicians adorned themselves in hazmat looking suits. The telescope is made simplistically of four parts:  

  1. The Optical Telescope Element (OTE); 18 hexagonal mirrors
  2. Integrated Science Instrument Model (ISIM)
  3. Sunshield
  4. Spacecraft Bus 

 The 18 hexagonal mirrors were constructed at Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corporation in CO as a subcontractor for Northrup Grumman, an optics corporation. They were then sent to Goddard Space Center where they were meticulously attached to the base. Then the craft was carefully transported to the Marshall X-Ray and Cryogenic Facility, in Huntsville, AL for temperature testing. The 21.3 foot main mirror is made of a lightweight element called beryllium, from the mines of Utah, and covered with a thin layer of gold for the best infrared reflection. They were polished with water to around 20 nanometers of thickness. One nanometer is one-millionth of a meter. 

The sunshields are like mylar and can withstand extreme temperatures on one side and maintains cool temps on the side facing the instruments. The spacecraft bus fits in the center to contain most of the technology. The reason the hexagon shape was chosen was so the mirrors could fold into the rocket for launch, and unfold into close fitting segments to create one huge mirror.

James Webb Space Telescope

The telescope was finally launched on December 25, 2021. “JWST is flying on its own” an administrator announced from Mission Control. This statement was followed by cheers (Fox, K 2021). It was launched into space towards Jupiter, to save on fuel. From Jupiter, it was sling shot across the galaxy. With minimum jet propulsion. It reached Its destination, one million miles away to the Lagrange Point (L2) in late January. This is a point of balance between the Earth and the Sun. Without a glitch, the mirrors opened over the following weeks. It was exciting for all who kept tabs on the JWST’s progress. 

Test Image

The Science Institute worked in conjunction with the participating above-mentioned agencies to select the appropriate images to unveil to the public. The first infrared shot was the above test image. We all waited six months after the craft reached the Lagrange point, to see if the mission was a success. There was no way to repair the craft in case of malfunction. It had to go through a cooling process while the technical components adjusted themselves in preparation for the first images. 

Cosmic Cliffs

“Cosmic Cliffs” is the name given to this image of a gaseous cloud nursery of the Carina nebula. Hubble captured the same image, but it does not look like this, as observed in Hubble’s shot of NGC 3234 below. 


 Hubble NC3324
Stephan’s Quintet

Some people may recognize this image from the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” albeit in a totally different light now. This high resolution infrared version is the largest image JWST has taken thus far. It took 1,000 image files to compile 150 million pixels for the completion of this image. One galaxy shows shockwaves bursting through as these five regional galaxies reveal young stars in the making.

Southern Ring Nebula (2,500 Light Years Away)

 JWST’s snap shots of The Southern Ring nebula reveals dusty gas emanating from this star for thousands of years, according to NASA. Before  the telescope’s infrared exposure, the gaseous dust was invisible. Nebulas are formed from dying stars or supernovas. 

Atmosphere Composition

The atmosphere composition image is indicative of an exoplanet’s water. JWST will be able to determine this type of information in our solar system. We can look forward to traveling back through the cosmos to our beginnings to become more knowledgeable about ourselves. 

Although the JWST cost 10 million dollars, it turned out to be a good investment. As an astronomy enthusiast and poet from humble beginnings, I love to play Gill Scott Heron’s 1970 classic, “Whitey on the moon” (linked below), just for laughs. In a new wave of inflation it is old, yet new again, like the images from JWST. In conclusion, NASA, ESA, and CSA, and all the engineers, technicians and contractors deserve special recognition for their efforts and accomplishments. I, for one, am very grateful for their success, with hopes that each and every one are rewarding themselves with a much needed vacation, and self care, as I wish them all Godspeed.

Sheila T. Zimmerman ‘22

References

Fox, K. (25, Dec. 2021). “What it felt like at Mission  Ops Control when we launched JWST”. 

https://blogs.nasa.gov/webb/2021/12/25/what-it-felt-like-at-mission-ops-control-when-we-launched-jwst/. Accessed July 15, 2022

Heron, Gill Scott. “Whitey on the Moon”. Small Talk at 125th and Lenox.Flying Dutchman Records. 1970. http://www.YouTube.com

James Webb Telescope. (12, July 2022). NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Greenbelt Maryland. https://www.nasa.gov/webbfirstimages

Accessed July 12, 2022. 

Published by EarthtoneS

My love for writing extends back to the early years as a form of expression when my vocabulary was limited. I needed a way to validate my thoughts and feelings. I began with poetry which led to journaling, and songwriting. Ultimately, I began writing as a subcontractor in '08 for a freelancer who supplied articles to businesses. This is where I learned SEO content, keywords, and density. By the time I had written hundreds of articles of this nature, it was time to move forward in my quest to learn internet marketing as I honed my creative writing skillset. I began writing academically in 2015 so I could tighten up on how to cite my research. Now it's time to apply what I've learned to my body of work. My desire is to complete the book for which I've researched and compiled information, in addition to my personal experience. As I sojourn towards having my first full body of work published, I am available for writing projects to support my objective. I am grateful for the day you discover, acknowledge, and appreciate the passion in my words.

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