from the reading-tombstones dept.
Beyond the orbit of Neptune, a diverse collection of thousands of dwarf planets and other relatively small objects dwells in a region called the Kuiper Belt. These often-pristine leftovers from our solar system's days of planet formation are called Kuiper Belt objects, or trans-Neptunian objects. NASA's upcoming James Webb Space Telescope will examine an assortment of these icy bodies in a series of programs called Guaranteed Time Observations shortly after its launch in 2021. The goal is to learn more about how our solar system formed.
"These are objects that are in the graveyard of solar system formation," explained Cornell University's Jonathan Lunine, a Webb Interdisciplinary Scientist who will use Webb to study some of these targets. "They're in a place where they could last for billions of years, and there aren't many places like that in our solar system. We'd love to know what they're like."
By studying these bodies, Lunine and his colleagues hope to learn about which ices were present in the early solar system. These are the coldest worlds to display geologic and atmospheric activity, so scientists are also interested in comparing them with the planets.
[...] The James Webb Space Telescope will be the world's premier space science observatory when it launches in 2021. Webb will solve mysteries in our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.
It looks like the launch date for the James Webb Space Telescope has slipped again. It was slated to launch this coming Halloween but now it will be at mid-November at the earliest.
According to Ars Technica:
Last summer, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) set an October 31, 2021, launch date for the $10 billion telescope. The instrument, which is the largest science observatory ever placed into space, will launch on a European Ariane 5 rocket from a spaceport in French Guiana. Now, however, three considerations have pushed the launch into November or possibly early December.
[...] The launch campaign, which begins when the telescope arrives in French Guiana, requires 55 days. Asked whether this means that Webb will not launch until mid-November at the earliest, Zurbuchen said this assessment was correct.
A delay of a few weeks is not much, considering the initial launch timeframe was around 2007. Still, there are reasons for optimism. Pushing back the launch by weeks rather than months or years is an indication that the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter for the successor to Hubble.
- NASA's James Webb Space Telescope Passes Crucial Launch-Simulation Tests
- NASA's Webb to Examine Objects in the Graveyard of the Solar System
- NASA Ominously Chooses Halloween 2021 to Launch Long-Delayed Space Telescope
- James Webb Space Telescope Will "Absolutely" Not Launch in March
- New Exoplanet Life Detection Method for James Webb Telescope