Whether near or far, the universe is full of wondrous mysteries. NASA’s JWST is progressing through its remaining stages before beginning exploration of universe in earnest. Many of their studies will involve un-speakably distant stars & galaxies, proper study of which requires extreme precision.
But the planets, their satellites & asteroids are also on Webb’s menu, and these move against the background of the stars in cosmos. This means Webb must “lock on” moving targets and track them well enough to collect complete images & spectra.
And this week, Webb’s team finished testing Webb’s abilities to hunt & capture moving targets in deep space, according to a NASA blog post that marks the beginning of space based platform for moving target science.
This is Huge.
JWST will explore our own solar system
The next step is to further test the JWST ability to track other objects moving at different speeds to confirm Webb’s effectiveness in studying the wide variety of zipping objects in our own solar system.
“I’m really excited about Webb’s upcoming first year of science operations!” Heidi Hammel, Webb Interdisciplinary Scientist for Solar System Observations, said in the blog post. “I lead a team of equally enthusiastic astronomers who are eagerly waiting to start downloading data.
“Webb can see the faint light from early galaxies, but my team will be observing much closer-to-home,” Hammel added. “They will use Webb to unravel some of the mysteries that exist within our own solar system.
If you’re wondering why we need a device with the power of the JWST to study objects in our solar system. Hammel has an answer: “Planetary scientists use telescopes to complement our in situ missions (missions we send to fly, orbit, or land on objects).
JWST tracked a moving target: 6481 Tenzing
Scientists used Hubble to see where the New Horizons spacecraft was headed after it made its Pluto fly-by in 2015. That object was Arrokoth. As a group of scientists push for NASA to explore Uranus with a flagship mission by 2032, we can already use faraway space telescopes and other ice giants like Neptune to better understand our solar system.
Space telescopes like the Webb can also take measurements of large populations of objects in space, “like hundreds of asteroids or objects in the Kuiper Belt (small ice worlds beyond the orbits of Neptune, including Pluto), since only we can send missions to a few of these.”
Webb’s team targeted an asteroid in our solar system to conduct engineering tests of a “moving target” (MT) capability. Specifically, Webb’s instruments were trained on a small asteroid called 6481 Tenzing in the main belt. Webb’s team targeted an asteroid in our solar system to conduct engineering tests of a “moving target” (MT) capability. Specifically, Webb’s instruments were trained on a small asteroid called 6481 Tenzing in the main belt.
Webb could help uncover the mysteries of Europa’s oceans
“There are far more mysteries in our solar system than my team had time to solve. Our programs will observe objects throughout the solar system: we will take pictures of the giant planets & the rings of Saturn; we will explore many Kuiper Belt objects; we’re going to analyze the atmosphere of Mars, we’re going to do Titan studies and more!” exclaimed Hammer. “There are other teams planning observations as well; in the first year, 7% of Webb’s time will be focused on objects in our solar system.
Certainly the JWST, along with other fascinating planetary bodies such as Europa, which emits plumes thought to stem from vast sub-surface oceans, and many others, will become a crucial link in solving some of the deepest questions in astronomy , Planetary Science & Astrophysics. Not only at farthest reaches of the old universe, but also here in our solar system.