How Far Away Is The James Webb Space Telescope From Earth?

On July 11, 2022, people around the world got to take a gander at the very first pictures sent back by NASA's James Web Space Telescope. According to USA Today, the images marked decades worth of work and billions of dollars spent to provide a look at the universe that has never been achievable before.

"Today is a historic day. the first image from the Webb Space Telescope represents a historic moment for science and technology, for astronomy and space exploration. United States President Joe Biden said, "And for America and all humanity."

The full-color photos provide the deepest look into the universe that humanity has been able to look into the universe, both in terms of time and distance. This type of image wasn't achievable by the James Webb Space Telescope's predecessor, the Hubble Telescope which is now more than 30 years old. The James Webb is 100 times more powerful than the Hubble.

Where is the James Webb telescope?

The James Webb Space Telescope differs from its predecessor the Hubble Telescope in many ways, but one of the most significant is where its located. According to NASA, the Hubble Telescope orbits Earth at a distance of around 570 kilometers above the planet's surface. The James Webb Telescope is much farther from Earth than Hubble. In fact, NASA's latest telescope is 1.5 million kilometers from Earth.

The James Webb telescope orbits the moon, however, it uses the combined gravitational pull of the sun and Earth to stay synchronized with Earth. Typically an object farther from the sun would take longer to complete circumnavigation around the sun, but the combined gravitational pulls allow it to keep up with Earth's orbit. The location that allowed for this is known as L2.

This also allows easy communication from the telescope back to Earth, thanks to a series of three antennas scattered around the world. One is in Spain, another is in Australia, and the last one is in California.

The James Webb Telescope

The James Webb Space Telescope is the largest telescope ever sent into space,  according to USA Today. It's around the size of a tennis court and measures just about three stories in height. The telescope was in development for 14 years and was sent into space in late 2021, per Engadget, then spent six months being calibrated before it was ready to take and relay its first images. According to NASA, before calibration could begin, the James Webb Space Telescope needed to reach L2, which took 30 days from when it entered space.

Part of the calibration involved letting the telescope cool down, something aided by its 70-foot sun shield. This is to prevent heat from some of the telescopes' electronics generate as little infrared light as possible. Additionally, this step helped to avoid "dark current." This is an electrical force generated by the vibrations of atoms in the telescope's detectors. The phenomenon makes it difficult for the telescope to capture the clearest images possible.