The James Webb Space Telescope survived May meteorite damage and delivered a sweet interstellar miracle in July.
“This tribute cone is topped with a yellow sugar cookie representing the telescope’s primary mirror consisting of hexagonal segments made of gold-plated beryllium (6 times larger than Hubble’s main mirror),” said the Telus Spark Science Center in Calgary, Canada, of an ice cream confection they created in honor of the James Webb Deep Space Telescope.
“The vanilla soft-serve ice cream body is covered with crispy honeycomb crumble and pink sugar mimicking the telescope’s tennis court-sized sunshields (protection from the sun’s light and heat) and three chocolate sticks to the represent the supports holding the secondary mirror,” says Telus. “This new ice cream cone is five stars for sure!”
From ice cream cones to more traditional works of art, Webb has inspired stargazers from all over the world and kids of all ages to let their imaginations soar into the heavens with Webb.
During the worst days of COVID19 worldwide, when lockdowns were more rule than exception and classrooms remained closed to in-person learning for over a year, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope provided a once-in-a-lifetime window into the art and science of space exploration.
As they followed Webb’s construction progress, students and artists from all over the world submitted original artwork, haiku poetry and intricate models- always asking and answering the same question over and over. It was the same question NASA scientists couldn’t wait to answer: What would Webb find out there?
Well beyond its great-grandfather, the Hubble Telescope, the James Webb Deep Space Telescope was conceived and designed to see much farther, much better than human beings ever had before.
Getting there wasn’t easy, and like everything else in 2020/2021/2022, COVID19 didn’t make things any easier.
The original launch date was delayed and Webb watchers around the globe held their collective breath. Then, on Christmas Day 2021, Webb blasted into space in a blaze of glory.
Next, came the really hard part.
Thousands upon thousands of delicate, intricate moving parts and instruments would have to withstand the extreme stresses of launch, only to endure the rigors of space.
Webb’s mirrors- enormous, nightmarishly complex confections of reflective panels- would have to be unfurled, successfully, in space- far from mission control, far from any NASA engineer’s clever fix.
When the James Webb Deep Space Telescope managed to unfold its mirrors in space, scientists, students and stargazers the world over rejoiced…and breathed a great sigh of relief.
When the news trickled out that James Webb’s fantastical mirror had endured a tiny meteoroid hit, or a series of them, Webb watchers gasped in horror. Would the beloved project fail?
“Astronomers are due to release its first views of the cosmos on 12 July,” Amos reassured BBC readers. “The US space agency Nasa said these images would be no less stunning because of what’s just happened.”
“Micrometeoroid strikes are an unavoidable aspect of operating any spacecraft, which routinely sustain many impacts over the course of long and productive science missions in space,” posted NASA’s Thaddeus Cesari to the James Webb Space Telescope blog on June 8. “Between May 23 and 25, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope sustained an impact to one of its primary mirror segments. After initial assessments, the team found the telescope is still performing at a level that exceeds all mission requirements despite a marginally detectable effect in the data.”
“We always knew that Webb would have to weather the space environment, which includes harsh ultraviolet light and charged particles from the Sun, cosmic rays from exotic sources in the galaxy, and occasional strikes by micrometeoroids within our solar system,” said Paul Geithner, the technical deputy project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center located in Greenbelt, Maryland. “We designed and built Webb with performance margin — optical, thermal, electrical, mechanical — to ensure it can perform its ambitious science mission even after many years in space.”
And indeed, James Webb’s first images were as breathtaking as the world’s Webb watchers hoped.
The first images Webb sent back when it phoned home, right on schedule, exceeded the wildest expectations of NASA scientists and everyone else- save perhaps those who expected space aliens.
A tremendous celebration ensued once the first stunning images started returning to earth like interstellar postcards and plenty of new James Webb fans were born. Suddenly, it seemed like every eye on earth was trained on the heavens, wondering what might be revealed next.
Rather than released by NASA officials, these images were complied using raw James Webb data mined by citizen-scientist Judy Schmidt.
Thanks to Schmidt’s intricate and painstaking work, Webb watchers are getting a preview of two jaw-dropping spiral galaxies.
“As I work through trying out different ways to combine the data, this method stood out as particularly pretty, even if it lacks immediate scientific clarity,” explained Schmidt of the above image. “The glowing strands and flocks of dust, which would normally be dark in visible light imagery, are instead bright and glowing with infrared light from JWST.”
While we wait to see what James Webb sends next, NASA fans, Judy Schmidt, and the world of Webb watchers will be creating original art and composite images inspired by the the great blue yonder.