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NASA's James Webb telescope completes mirror deployment, heads for orbit

By Simon Druker
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NASA's James Webb telescope completes mirror deployment, heads for orbit
An illustration depicts the James Webb Space Telescope fully deployed in space. The telescope fully deployed its primary mirrors as well as its smaller, secondary mirror, on Wednesday. Image courtesy of NASA

Jan. 19 (UPI) -- NASA's James Webb telescope completed deployment all 18 of its primary mirror segments and the secondary mirror on Wednesday, the agency reported.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson shared the news, tipping his hat to the crew on Twitter.

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"Congratulations to the teams that have been working tirelessly since launch to get to this point. Soon, Webb will arrive at its new home, L2," wrote Nelson.

"(The term) L2 is short-hand for the second Lagrange Point, a wonderful accident of gravity and orbital mechanics, and the perfect place to park the Webb telescope in space. There are five so-called 'Lagrange Points' -- areas where gravity from the sun and Earth balance the orbital motion of a satellite," according to NASA.

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Approximately five months of further alignment and calibration lay ahead as it completes a million-mile journey, before scientists will start getting the first images from the telescope, the agency said.

That work also includes settling into a stable operating temperature and calibrating onboard science instruments.

The mirror is 21 feet, 4 inches across and made of beryllium coated with reflective gold. It is the shape and size that scientists determined was needed to measure infrared light from the earliest galaxies.

The NASA team will continue aligning the telescope's mirrors, making minor adjustments, as it journeys to its eventual orbit.

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The $10 billion telescope was launched on Dec. 25 and completed its initial mirror deployment earlier this month.

A NASA website tracks its every move along the way.

Webb's more sensitive instruments will penetrate the gas and dust of space objects that have limited the visibility of its predecessor, the Hubble Telescope.

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