The James Webb Area Telescope doesn’t orbit the Earth because the Hubble Area Telescope does. As a substitute, it orbits the solar ready referred to as the second Solar-Earth Lagrange level, or L2, the place it might stay in a secure orbit with one facet pointing towards the solar and the opposite facet remaining within the shade. Webb is not alone on this L2 orbit although — different spacecraft are there too, together with the European Area Company (ESA)’s Gaia observatory.
That meant there was a chance for Gaia, which arrived at L2 in 2014, to seize a picture of its new companion. Final month, the 2 spacecraft had been 600,000 miles aside and Gaia was in a position to snap an image of Webb. As Webb is edge-on from the view of Gaia, it solely displays a small quantity of sunshine and so it seems as a small speck of sunshine within the picture.
Gaia’s sky mapper picture displaying the James Webb Area Telescope. The reddish colour is synthetic, chosen only for illustrative causes. The body exhibits a couple of comparatively shiny stars, a number of faint stars, a couple of disturbances—and a spacecraft. It’s marked by the inexperienced arrow. ESA/Gaia/DPAC
Capturing this picture took some planning, which two Gaia scientists, Uli Bastian of Heidelberg College in Germany and Francois Mignard of Good Observatory in France, started earlier than Webb arrived at L2. As Gaia photos your entire sky, they realized it could be capable of see Webb as the brand new telescope handed Gaia’s area of view.
“After Webb had reached its vacation spot at L2, the Gaia scientists calculated when the primary alternative would come up for Gaia to identify Webb, which turned out to be 18 February 2022,” ESA wrote. “After Gaia’s two telescopes had scanned the a part of the sky the place Webb can be seen, the uncooked information was downloaded to Earth. Within the morning after, Francois despatched an electronic mail to all of the individuals concerned. The topic enthusiastic line of the e-mail was ‘JWST: Received it!!’”
It’s a formidable feat for Gaia to have taken this picture, because the observatory shouldn’t be designed for taking photos of particular person objects resembling stars or planets. As a substitute, it creates a 3D map of your entire galaxy, searching for modifications in place and movement within the one billion stars of the Milky Manner. Nonetheless, the scientists had been ready to make use of the observatory’s finder scope to seize this picture.