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The James Webb Space Telescope finishes unfolding its primary mirror, concluding major deployments

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The precarious unfurling process has finally come to an end

Photo by Northrop Grumman

The James Webb Telescope (JWST) has finished unfolding its primary mirror, ending a series of major deployments that took place over the span of two weeks. All of those deployments needed to go perfectly in order for the massive space telescope, which was decades in the making, to function.

The JWST has two primary mirror panels on either side that it will use to collect infrared light from the distant Universe. Each of them consists of three gold-plated hexagonal mirrors. Today, the rightmost wing was successfully unfurled, just one day after the leftmost wing was deployed. Now that both sides have been locked into place, this completes the array of 18 mirrors that makes up the 21-foot-wide JWST.

The JWST launched into space on Christmas Day, and since the full-size mirror was too large to fit on a rocket, scientists designed it in a way that allows its components to fold, something that has never been done before. Once the JWST reached space, it began the precarious unfolding process. Earlier this week, the spacecraft pulled off its most complex hurdle: the deployment of a sunshield JWST uses to block light from the Sun and keep its instruments cold. With JWST now in its final form, scientists will have to toy with the mirrors a bit more to ensure that they’re aligned, as well as continue to calibrate its instruments to get it ready to reveal the Universe’s secrets.

In about two more weeks, the JWST will reach its final destination in deep space. We’re going to have to wait until summer to get some of the first images from the JWST, but it will likely be worth the wait.