James Webb Space Telescope Launch and Orbit at L2

  • Released Tuesday, July 12th, 2022
  • Updated Sunday, February 11th, 2024 at 10:59PM
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This visualization begins with a top-down view of the Earth-Sun system, with Lagrange points L3, L4, and L5 labeled. A magnified view of Earth appears, showing L1 and L2. The camera pushes into Earth as the James Webb Space Telescope is launched. The camera pulls back to a top-down view as JWST arrives at L2. A yellow arrow points to the Sun’s position. The camera shifts to an oblique view of the orbit before transiting to a view fixed on the Sun-Earth axis, showing how L2’s position is affected by the moon’s orbit around the Earth.

The James Webb Space Telescope (sometimes called JWST) is a large, infrared-optimized space telescope. The observatory launched into space on an Ariane 5 rocket from the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana on December 25, 2021. After launch, the observatory was successfully unfolded and is being readied for science. Webb will find the first galaxies that formed in the early Universe, connecting the Big Bang to our own Milky Way Galaxy. Webb will peer through dusty clouds to see stars forming planetary systems, connecting the Milky Way to our own Solar System.

The James Webb Space Telescope will not be in orbit around the Earth, like the Hubble Space Telescope is - it will actually orbit the Sun, 1.5 million kilometers (1 million miles) away from the Earth at what is called the second Lagrange point or L2. What is special about this orbit is that it lets the telescope stay in line with the Earth as it moves around the Sun. This allows the satellite's large sunshield to protect the telescope from the light and heat of the Sun and Earth (and Moon).

Still image - A system view of Lagrange points. The white box represents a zoomed-in view of the Earth, L1, and L2.

Still image - A system view of Lagrange points. The white box represents a zoomed-in view of the Earth, L1, and L2.

Still image - Top down view of JWST arriving at L2 (indicated with a white cross).  Earth and the Moon’s orbit are visible.  The direction of the Sun is indicated with a yellow arrow.

Still image - Top down view of JWST arriving at L2 (indicated with a white cross). Earth and the Moon’s orbit are visible. The direction of the Sun is indicated with a yellow arrow.

Still image - Top down view of JWST orbiting at L2 (indicated with a white cross).  Earth and the Moon’s orbit are visible.  The direction of the Sun is indicated with a yellow arrow.

Still image - Top down view of JWST orbiting at L2 (indicated with a white cross). Earth and the Moon’s orbit are visible. The direction of the Sun is indicated with a yellow arrow.

Still image - Oblique view of JWST orbiting at L2 (indicated with a white cross).  Earth and the Moon’s orbit are visible.  The direction of the Sun is indicated with a yellow arrow.

Still image - Oblique view of JWST orbiting at L2 (indicated with a white cross). Earth and the Moon’s orbit are visible. The direction of the Sun is indicated with a yellow arrow.

Still image - Oblique view of JWST orbiting at L2 (indicated with a white cross).  Earth and the Moon’s orbit are visible.  The direction of the Sun is indicated with a yellow arrow.

Still image - Oblique view of JWST orbiting at L2 (indicated with a white cross). Earth and the Moon’s orbit are visible. The direction of the Sun is indicated with a yellow arrow.

Still image - A view from L2 looking toward the Earth with the Sun the background indicating how the three points in space are aligned.

Still image - A view from L2 looking toward the Earth with the Sun the background indicating how the three points in space are aligned.



Credits

Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio