NASA's James Webb is one crucial step away from taking its first images

It's all the way "on".
Chris Young
An artist's impression of James Webb.NASA GSFC/CIL/Adriana Manrique Gutierrez

The time has come.

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope is very close to making its first-ever observation of the cosmos.

The telescope's Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) will capture its first images once it has cooled down to its operational temperature of minus 244 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 153 degrees Celsius), a report from Space.com reveals.

Investigating the early universe

After the cooling process, the much-celebrated Webb telescope will take its first-ever images. Specifically, it will train its cameras on a star called HD 84406, located 241 light-years away from Earth. The images will not be used for research purposes. Instead, they will help Webb's mission control team to align the 18 golden segments of the telescope's 21-foot-wide (6.5 meters) main mirror. 

The NIRCam will stay trained on HD 84406 while the Webb telescope team moves the mirror in tiny increments to create a perfectly smooth surface. The process will be an arduous one, lasting until April. However, once it is finished, the James Webb Space Telescope will be fully operational, meaning we will start to gain new insights into the early universe, potentially habitable exoplanets, and potentially even alien life.

When will we get to see James Webb Space Telescope images?

The first images taken for scientific purposes by Webb are expected to be revealed to the public either in late June or early July. NIRCam's job is crucial to the $10 billion telescope mission's success. If it fails, the mission fails, which is why NIRCam is essentially two cameras in one, meaning it has full redundancy. 

Webb's instruments, including NIRCam, will operate at incredibly low temperatures in order to observe the oldest stars in the universe, formed in the first hundreds of million years after the Big Bang. As they are so far away, light emitted from these stars is only visible in infrared wavelengths. Infrared light is essentially heat, meaning Webb has to be as cool as possible so as to reduce interference as much as possible.

The James Webb Space Telescope arrived at its final destination, the Lagrangian Point 2 (L2), on January 24. L2 is located 930,000 miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth, and its position relative to both the Sun and the Earth means it provides Webb with a stable orbital trajectory from which to perform its operations. The telescope finally made its historic launch on Dec. 25 following a long string of delays.

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