There is actually something really exciting to look forward to in 2022 — likely sometime in June.
Groundhog Day is less than a month away and there’s a major change coming to the annual celebration in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. That’s right, this year is not about whether Punxsutawney Phil will see his shadow when he emerges from his burrow on Feb. 2, but rather will he be wearing a mask? Pray not, we don’t need six more weeks of the pandemic.
There is actually something really exciting to look forward to in 2022 — likely sometime in June. That’s when, fingers crossed, the recently launched Webb Telescope is scheduled to begin transmitting its first images from 1 million miles out in space, providing us with a whole new perspective about our very existence.
The telescope was conceived in 1996 but cost overruns, redesigns and COVID-19 led to an eventual 25-year labor, without the benefit of an epidural.
It’s fascinating to follow the progress of the telescope in real time at www.jwst.nasa.gov, which includes distance traveled, miles left to final orbit, speed, temperatures and what the in-flight movie is.
The telescope is currently traveling at 3,190 mph, which in Earth terms means you could fly to Los Angeles in 43 minutes, still enough time for a passenger to get in a fight for not wearing a mask. That is if the flight isn’t already among the thousands of flights currently being canceled.
The James Webb Space Telescope website says the infrared telescope “will explore a wide range of science questions to help us understand the origins of the universe and our place in it. Seeking light from the first galaxies in the universe … directly observe a part of space and time never seen before … gaze into the epoch when the very first stars and galaxies formed, over 13.5 billion years ago.” To put in perspective just how long ago that really is, that’s 13,499,999,935 years longer than the Lions last won a championship.
In the hoopla over this marvel of technology, let’s not forget the accomplishments of Webb’s distinguished predecessor, the Hubble Telescope. While it’s still a functioning satellite, NASA was able to get the new Webb Telescope for just $10 billion as part of a federally sponsored Telescope Lease Pull Ahead Program.
For the last 32 years, Hubble has been transmitting breathtaking images of space but is positioned just a mere 340 miles above Earth. Can you imagine what we are in store for when Webb begins transmitting from a million miles away?
Hubble, though, will always have one major advantage over Webb, its accessible for service calls. The last one was in May 2009, when astronauts aboard the space shuttle Atlantis docked on the telescope to perform upgrades during several spacewalks over nearly 13 days.
On the occasion of Hubble’s 25th anniversary in April 2019, I shared in the JN the transcript of the last communication between Hubble and the astronaut who performed the routine checkup on the telescope’s lenses. It read as follows:
Astronaut: “Hubble, do you see better through lens Number 1 or Number 2?”
Astronaut: “Number 2 or Number 3?”
Hubble: “Um, can you do that again?”
Astronaut: “Sure. 2 or 3?”
Hubble: “Gosh, they’re so close.”
Astronaut: “Number 2 or 3?”
Hubble: I’ll say 3. Wait, 2. No, sorry, 3.”
With the end of the Space Shuttle program, there are no scheduled flights to Hubble, but Jeff Bezos just announced that if Hubble — which is expected to need progressive lenses by the time it turns 50 — orders them through Amazon, he’ll deliver them aboard one of his Blue Origin rockets. Free if they sign up for Prime.
Arguably, one of the most fascinating capabilities of the Webb Telescope will be its ability to study planets outside our solar system, including conducting tests to determine if their atmospheres show any signs of life.
Unfortunately, the telescope won’t be able to go as far as determining intelligent life, which is a shame, since we here on Earth are experiencing an ever-growing shortage of it.
I’m hoping as you’re reading this NASA was successful in its initial attempt to begin deploying Webb’s mirror made up of 18 hexagonal-shaped gold coated beryllium panels. The panels were folded to fit into the Ariane 5 rocket payload, which was the maximum allowed carry-on luggage.
According to NASA, the unfurling of Webb’s giant mirror is just one of 300 ways the telescope could fail.
Boy, can you imagine the angst NASA’s Webb team must be going through? I can. I’m just about ready to turn on and set up my new, just received Apple iPhone 13 … Houston, we have a problem.