Our wait seems to be nearing its end as NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is in its final stages of completion before being launched to explore the solar system. The Webb team is undertaking the final stages of commissioning the essential instruments aboard the observatory. Technical operations have also begun to test these instruments. The team is running a final test to check how precisely the Webb telescope can find distant stars and galaxies and acquire their images and spectra. The observatory is also equipped to keep a check on satellites, asteroids, and comets in the solar system.
The task of the Webb telescope is to lock its observing tools on the objects that are swiftly moving against a background of stars of our Milky Way galaxy. In order to check the observatory’s capabilities to undertake such complex tasks, the team ran the first test to track a moving object and Webb succeeded in the test. Scientists, now, aim to test different objects, which will move at varying speeds, to test the precision of Webb’s instruments.
Heidi Hammel, Webb’s interdisciplinary scientist for solar system observations, shares, “Webb can detect the faint light of the earliest galaxies, but my team will be observing much closer to home. They will use Webb to unravel some of the mysteries that abound in our own solar system.”
But, isn’t Webb meant to observe the deepest corners of outer space? Do we really need such a powerful tool to study our solar system? The answers lie in a statement by Ms Hammel, “We planetary scientists use telescopes to complement our in situ missions (missions that we send to fly by, orbit, or land on objects). One 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 have in situ missions planned — like for the distant ice giants Uranus and Neptune or to make measurements of large populations of objects, such as hundreds of asteroids or Kuiper Belt Objects (small ice worlds beyond the orbits of Neptune, including Pluto) since we can only send missions to just a few of these.”
“Our solar system has far more mysteries than my team had time to solve. Our programs will observe objects across the solar system,” said Hammel.