Science

Skywatcher views the James Webb space telescope from Earth in telescope photos

This short movie of the James Webb Space Telescope moving through space was captured by astrophysicist Gianluca Masi of the Virtual Telescope Project on December 29, 2021. (Image credit: Gianluca Masi / Virtual Telescope Project)

Thanks to images from a robotic ground telescope, you can now see NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope travel across the last frontier.

The James Webb Space Telescope, a collaborative developing effort involving NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency, launched in the early hours of December 25. Four days later, on December 29, astrophysicist Gianluca Masi of The Virtual Telescope Project spotted Webb traveling through space using a robotic telescope.

Masi combined some of his images into a short movie of Webb in action that you can see above. You can see Webb in the image and video as a small white dot with the help of a small arrow. (You can also track mission milestones on a NASA website here.)

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The James Webb Space Telescope (the little arrow) as discovered by Gianluca Masi of the Virtual Telescope Project. (Image credit: Gianluca Masi / The Virtual Telescope Project)

Masi’s video shows Webb in space, on his way to his final destination, a gravitationally stable point in space called L2, or the Earth-Sun Lagrange point 2, at about 1 million miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth.

At the time, the observatory was about 340,000 miles (550,000 kilometers) from Earth, Masi wrote. That’s roughly 100,000 miles (160,000 km) beyond the moon’s orbit.

To take the “movie” of Webb, the robotic telescope followed Webb’s motion across the sky. Masi collected these Webb images using a single 120-second exposure with the PlaneWave 17 “+ Paramount ME + SEBIG STL-6303E robotic telescope, nicknamed” Elena, “which is available from the Virtual Telescope Project in Ceccano, Italy.

At the same time that Masi was collecting these observations, Webb extended his deployable tower assembly (DTA), a step that gave the telescope the space to begin deploying its massive lens hood, according to the Virtual Telescope Project.

If you’re looking to photograph the night sky, check out our best cameras for astrophotography and best lenses for astrophotography. Our best telescope guide can help you select the best observing tool for you.

Email Chelsea Gohd at cgohd@ or follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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