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James Webb Space Telescope reaches destination, so now what?

Four weeks after launching atop an Ariane 5 rocket in French Guiana, the James Webb Space Telescope has reached the location from where it will explore deep space in a bid to unlock the mysteries of the universe.

The most advanced space telescope ever built reached the point known as Lagrange Point 2 (L2) on Monday, January 24, after a journey of almost a million miles.

Its final burn added a mere 3.6 miles per hour (1.6 meters per second) to Webb’s speed — enough to push it to the “halo” orbit around the L2 point.

During its lengthy voyage from Earth, the Webb telescope successfully unfurled its enormous, tennis court-sized sunshield and its 18-segment primary mirror that will help scientists observe the universe in what promises to be a new era of space exploration.

A diagram of the James Webb Space Telescope.

Now what?

While the space telescope has reached its destination, its exploration work won’t begin for another five months. That’s how long the Webb team — comprising personnel from NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency — needs to align the mirrors and activate Webb’s science instruments.

“During the past month, the James Webb Space Telescope has achieved amazing success and is a tribute to all the folks who spent many years and even decades to ensure mission success,” Bill Ochs, Webb project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said on the space agency’s website. “We are now on the verge of aligning the mirrors, instrument activation and commissioning, and the start of wondrous and astonishing discoveries.”

Webb will follow in the footsteps of the less powerful Hubble Space Telescope, observing the first galaxies of the universe, revealing the birth of stars and planets, and searching for exoplanets with the potential for sustaining life.

The $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope mission can already be considered a remarkable feat of human endeavor. Even before the telescope begins peering into deep space, the team has achieved a lot, creating a highly advanced observatory that had to be folded to fit in the rocket’s fairing and then unfurled while traveling through space.

“Webb, welcome home!” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said on Monday. “Congratulations to the team for all of their hard work ensuring Webb’s safe arrival at L2 today.”

Nelson added: “We’re one step closer to uncovering the mysteries of the universe. And I can’t wait to see Webb’s first new views of the universe this summer!”

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