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Monday, May 27 from 10-5 pm

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Why We're Thankful for the James Webb Space Telescope

November 22, 2022

by Jennifer Roe, Senior Education Manager, Imagination Station

I’m thankful for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) with its amazing innovations, international cooperation and local connections! The JWST is an international effort to study the cosmos that took decades to design, plan and ultimately launch last Christmas (December 25, 2021) at 7:20 am EST from the European Space Agency’s spaceport in French Guiana. It arrived at its destination, the Earth-Sun Lagrange Point 2, also known as L2, on January 24, 2022. The L2 point is located 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, opposite the sun, and was chosen as the observation point because it orbits the sun at the same rate as Earth, but is far enough away to keep it out of Earth’s shadow and away from any heat radiated from the Earth. This is especially important as three of the four scientific instruments on the JWST need to be at a temperature of 37 degrees kelvin, or about -393˚F. This temperature can be reached just by being in space at this location, along with the tennis-court sized sunshield. One instrument, the Mid-infrared Instrument (MIRI) actually needs it to be even colder at a temperature of less than 7 degrees kelvin (-447˚F)! In order to reach this temperature in space, the scientists and engineers on the team had to work together to create new advancements in cryocoolers and ensure minimum vibration to avoid disturbing the instruments.

The world was astounded as the first images were released from the James Webb Space Telescope with both their beauty and rich scientific data. These images were created by combining information from all four of the JWST’s instruments of which the primary mirror is the most impressive, with its 6.5 meter diameter composed of 18 separate segments of beryllium (which were purified and pressed locally in Elmore, OH) and coated with a layer of gold thinner than a human hair!

Since the release of the first images, many other new images have been released, including stunning images of galaxies, nebulae, Jupiter and Neptune. Researchers around the world will be using the data provided from the JWST for years to come to uncover new information about our universe, and astronomers at The University of Toledo will be at the forefront. In fact, they rank number 6 among all institutions worldwide for successful proposals and will use nearly 20% of the hours reserved for star research! With all of the super interstellar science happening all around us, it also makes me thankful to live in an area that is out of this world!