NASA’s new flagship space telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), sent back its first official scientific images as it explores the universe in greater detail than ever before. Revealed on July 12, these images mark the end of JWST’s long journey from Earth to its home a million miles away.
Unistellar observers have been following the telescope on nearly every step of its journey through space, capturing key moments and sharing them with the world. During the Unistellar observing campaign, 54 Citizen Astronomers caught a glimpse of JWST, detecting the telescope a collective 143 times over the course of three months.
The first Unistellar Network observations came shortly after JWST launched on Christmas Day, 2021, when two observers, Himanshu Mathur from India and Petri Kuossari from Finland, caught the rocket boosters tumbling away from the telescope after having carried it to orbit. Then, on December 26, Unistellar Citizen Astronomer Kendra Sibbernson captured a flare from JWST’s rockets as they adjusted the telescope’s trajectory to ensure it remained on-target.
Many more observations followed over the next months, as observers tracked JWST’s journey all the way to its final destination where it orbits the second Lagrangian point, or “L2″— a point where the gravity from the Earth and Sun balance each other. Another highlight came on January 6, when Unistellar Network members Tateki Goto in Japan and Justus Randolph from the state of Georgia saw a sudden spike in brightness from the telescope, which likely came from the sunshield reflecting sunlight.
With the process of calibrating its instruments and aligning its mirrors nearly complete, NASA’s mission is almost ready to begin peering deep into the universe. The telescope will take images that allow us to glimpse into the beginning of the universe more than 13.5 billion years ago, look into the atmospheres of distant exoplanets, and much more.
Unistellar Citizen Scientists have already made observations of their own that will complement JWST’s upcoming observations of exoplanets. As science operations get underway at this flagship space telescope, there should be many more opportunities for Unistellar members to team up with JWST astronomers for exciting new discoveries!