The Webb Telescope is almost ready to explore the solar system

As NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope moves through the final stages of commissioning its scientific instruments, we have also begun work on the technical operations of the observatory.
As the telescope travels through space, it will constantly find distant stars and galaxies and pinpoint them with pinpoint accuracy to acquire images and spectra. However, we also plan to observe planets and their satellites, asteroids and comets in our solar system, which move through the background stars of our galaxy.

Webb needs to be able to lock onto these objects and track them accurately enough to get images and spectra. The Webb team recently completed the first test to track a moving object. The test verified that Webb could conduct searches on moving targets! As we move forward with the commissioning, we will test other objects moving at different speeds to verify that we can study with Webb moving objects throughout the solar system.

Today we asked Heidi Hammel, Webb Interdisciplinary Scientist for Solar System Observations, to tell us about her plans to study Earth’s nearest neighbors:

“I’m really excited about Webb’s first year of science operations! I lead a team of astronomers who are equally excited and eager to start downloading data. Webb can detect the faint light of early galaxies, but my team will observe much closer to home. They will use Webb to unravel some of the mysteries that abound in our own solar system.

“One of the questions I get asked frequently is why we need a powerful telescope like Webb to study our nearby solar system. We planetary scientists use telescopes to complement our in situ missions ( missions we send out to fly, orbit, or land on objects. An example of this is how Hubble was used to find the post-Pluto target for the New Horizons mission, Arrokoth. We also use telescopes when we don’t. ‘ve no in situ missions planned – like for the distant ice giants Uranus and Neptune or to make measurements of large populations of objects, like hundreds of asteroids or Kuiper Belt objects (small ice worlds beyond the orbits of Neptune, including Pluto), because we can only send missions to a few of them.

“The Webb team has previously used an asteroid in our solar system to perform engineering tests of the ‘moving target’ (MT) capability. The engineering team tested this capability on a small belt-belt asteroid. main: 6481 Tenzing, named after Tenzing Norgay, the famous Tibetan mountain guide who was one of the first to summit Mount Everest Bryan Holler of the Space Telescope Science Institute had about 40 possible asteroids to choose from to testing the MT Tracker, but, as he told our team, “Since the items were all pretty much identical otherwise, picking the one with an achievement-related name seemed like a no-brainer. We love this stuff.

“My role at Webb as an ‘interdisciplinary scientist’ means that my program utilizes the full capabilities of this state-of-the-art telescope! We need everyone to really understand the solar system (and the universe!).

“Our solar system has many more mysteries than my team has had time to solve. Our programs will observe objects across the solar system: We will image the giant planets and Saturn’s rings; explore many belt objects of Kuiper; analyzing the atmosphere of Mars; running detailed studies of Titan; and many more! There are also other teams planning observations; in his first year, 7% of Webb’s time will be spent on objects in our solar system.

“An exciting and challenging program we plan to do is to observe the ocean worlds. There is evidence from the Hubble Space Telescope that Jupiter’s moon Europa has sporadic plumes of water-rich material. We plan to take images high resolution of Europa to study its surface and look for plume activity and active geologic processes.If we locate a plume, we will use Webb spectroscopy to analyze the composition of the plume.

“I have a soft spot in my heart for Uranus and Neptune. Indeed, it was the lack of a mission to those very distant worlds that led me to get involved with Webb so many decades ago. he Uranus team hopes to definitively link the chemistry and dynamics of the upper atmosphere (detectable with Webb) to the deeper atmosphere that we have been studying with other facilities for many decades. I have spent the last 30 years using the biggest and best telescopes mankind has ever built to study these ice giants, and now we’ll add Webb to that list.

“We have been planning Webb observations for over twenty years, and it has accelerated now that we are launched, deployed and focused! I made this choice to enable more scientific discoveries with Webb in future proposals.

“I am delighted to have been able to work with the team for all this time, and I would especially like to thank the thousands of people who collectively made this incredible facility possible for the astrophysical and planetary communities. Thanks! Ad Astra!”

The James Webb Space Telescope is the world’s largest, most powerful and most complex space science telescope ever built. Webb will solve the mysteries of our solar system, look beyond distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.

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