Science: James Webb Telescope on its Way to L2

The Story:

On Christmas Day 2021, NASA launched the most powerful telescope human beings have ever created, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), in order to supercede the Hubble Telescope. Hubble, which was launched more than 30 years ago, has served humanity well. But it is in earth orbit, and it suffers from optical interference from both Earth and Moon. The plans for the JWST are different.


The JWST is flying beyond earth orbit, to a Lagrange point. A Lagrange point is any point in space at which the gravitational force of two large bodies balance each other. In this instance, the goal is to put JWST at a point (L2) where the gravity of the Earth and of its Sun balance each other, creating an equilibrium location for the satellite. L2 is about 930 thousand miles from Earth, and reaching it is still weeks away for JWST.

The Telescope is named for James Edwin Webb (1906 – 1992) who administered NASA between 1961 and 1968, the period of the Mercury and Gemini missions.

Strange New Worlds:

One fascinating fact about JWST: it will be able to investigate the composition of the atmospheres around the planets of distant suns. This could let humanity know whether there are complex organic molecules there, potentially suggesting life.

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