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James Webb Space Telescope about to attempt next crucial step

It’s been a low-key week for the James Webb Space Telescope. Having successfully deployed its enormous sunshield earlier this month, followed a short while later by its golden primary mirror, the most advanced space telescope ever built has been quietly zipping through space toward its destination orbit almost a million miles from Earth.

After launching on December 25, the James Webb Space Telescope was 865,000 miles from Earth on Thursday — just 32,000 miles short of its destination orbit around the second sun-Earth Lagrange point, known as L2.

Webb is now gearing up for its next crucial step: A crucial burn to insert it into the L2 orbit, currently set for Monday, January 24.

The team confirmed the timing of the insertion maneuver in a tweet.

“Our orbital burn is now targeted for Monday afternoon to give our team time for the multiple hours of preparation required,” the message said.

Tracking our journey on Our orbital burn is now targeted for Monday afternoon to give our team time for the multiple hours of preparation required. Our milestones are human-controlled to provide our team flexibility to pause & adjust. #UnfoldTheUniverse

— NASA Webb Telescope (@NASAWebb) January 20, 2022

Since the successful deployment of the primary mirror a couple of weeks ago, the space telescope and its instruments have been gradually cooling down, a process aided by the tennis court-sized sunshield.

Before Webb can begin its work exploring deep space, the team has to work on aligning the telescope’s optics and calibrating the scientific instruments, a process expected to take about five months.

It means that Webb will start peering into deep space around June, observing the universe’s first galaxies, revealing the birth of stars and planets, and searching for exoplanets with the potential for sustaining life.

The James Webb Space Telescope is following in the footsteps of the Hubble Space Telescope, which has been exploring deep space for more than 30 years. But with Webb far more powerful than Hubble, scientists are hoping to make significant discoveries during the mission that go well beyond Hubble’s achievements.

The $10 billion mission — a partnership between NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency — launched on December 25 and will run for at least five years, though likely much longer.

For a full overview of the Webb mission, check out this Digital Trends article.

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