Smile for the James Webb Cam

It’s not often I get insider information from NASA, but just this week I’ve received a tip from a space agency friend.

Apparently the position of the Moon this week will provide an optimal moment for something never attempted before: a photograph of the people of the Earth in infrared.

It’s like this: The James Webb Space Telescope was launched into Lagrange 2 on Christmas Day. The Lagrange points are points of equilibrium for small objects under the influence of two massive orbiting bodies, like Earth and Sun. You have to do some nifty math to determine these points, which involves the solution of the restricted three-body problem.

At the Lagrange points, the gravitational forces of Earth and Sun, and the centrifugal force, balance each other. This can make Lagrange points an excellent location for satellites ~ and the Webb is out there at Lagrange 2; 930,000 miles away from Earth, four times the distance of the Moon.

This allows for the high precision spectrometer of the Webb cam to catch images of space never seen before.

And on Saturday this week, April 1st, after the Moon has cozied up with Mars, Venus and Saturn on Monday, then slipped into its dark phase on Tuesday, it will have a secret encounter with Jupiter and Neptune out of sight on Wednesday, before it arrives at New Phase on Friday. Then, the Moon will pull away from between Earth and Sun, allowing scientists to aim the James Webb cam earthward and snap an image, at 7:30-8 on Saturday, April 1st.

The human body emits warmth that can be read by the infrared Webb cam, so get together with family and friends and get outside Saturday April 1st at 7:30-8 and wave into the sky. And take note, this is a time when the more there are the merrier, because it increases your infrared emission. You might just show up on the space agency’s candid camera!

Catch this episode on my podcast The Storyteller’s Night Sky, and at Interlochen Public Radio.

With smiles!