As the telescope nears the conclusion of its six-month commissioning phase, NASA’s next-generation space observatory successfully saw a moving asteroid.
The successful monitoring of a local object demonstrates that the James Webb Space Telescope can keep an eye on solar system objects and the distant galaxies, stars, and other distant objects that it is intended to study throughout its potentially 20-year existence.
According to NASA, Webb’s capacity to view close targets will allow it to investigate everything from frozen objects in the Kuiper Belt to possibly habitable moons surrounding our solar system’s gas giant planets.
A main-belt asteroid, 6841 Tenzing, named after Tenzing Norgay, was chosen for the observation exercise. Along with Edmund Hillary, the Tibetan mountaineer was one of the first two people to reach the peak of Mount Everest. The Webb observations occurred only days before the 69th anniversary of their summit on May 29, 1953.
According to NASA, Webb has a few additional obstacles while following a moving target, such as switching between slightly cooler and hotter attitudes, which may disrupt the precise alignment of mirrors and equipment.
But, according to Hammel, the information the telescope will deliver to our outer solar system is worth the difficulty, especially for planets like Uranus and Neptune, which have only had a single ship visit them so far.
Other targeted research goals inside the solar system include Saturn’s rings, Titan’s atmosphere, investigations of multiple ice objects in the Kuiper Belt, and occasionally suspected plumes emanating from the icy moon Europa in Hubble Space Telescope imagery, according to Hammel.
Webb is scheduled to finish scientific commissioning in June before commencing an early science phase. According to Hammel, around 7% of Webb’s first year of observations will be devoted to the solar system.