The James Webb Space Telescope has spent 38 days in space, but its senior scientist thinks the mission is on schedule to discover the universe shortly. During a livestreamed Explore Mars event on Thursday, John Mather, a Nobel laureate and astronomer who also works at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, remarked, “The telescope is cold… the sensors are cooling” (Feb. 3).
Webb infrared instruments need to be very cold to pick up subtleties in galaxies, exoplanets, and other objects it’s studying, and individual photons (light particles) are starting to register in the telescope’s detectors, according to Mather. “I don’t have any photographs to show you yet,” he continued, “but I hope it will be soon.”
For the time being, they are acting as 18 distinct telescopes, but Mather emphasised that they will soon need to act as a single mirror staring into the deep universe. According to Mather, the images produced by Webb will be different from those produced by the long-running Hubble Space Telescope, which uses different infrared wavelengths in addition to visible light. Closer to home, he stated that Webb will focus on solar system objects such as Mars and Jupiter’s moon Europa, which will be the focus of more robotic exploration in the 2030s and beyond.