Webb Begins its Journey on ESA’s Ariane 5 Rocket!

A Perfect Launch!

Today, December 25, 2021, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope successfully blasted off from the European Space Agency’s launch site in Kourou, French Guiana and started the month-long journey to its new home, 1 million miles from Earth. The Ariane 5 rocket released the Webb telescope about 26 minutes after launch in an optimal trajectory for its 29-day trip to the second Lagrange point (L2) point.

Matt Mountain, AURA president and Webb Telescope Scientist said, “I am thrilled by today’s launch! There is still a lot that needs to happen before Webb can begin delivering science, but we had to get the telescope launched into space first, and we are now on our way to L2. After over 20 years of development and the immense efforts of thousands of incredibly talented and committed people, getting Webb launched is a remarkable achievement.”

Deployment and Commissioning from Space Telescope Science Institute

Webb — with its 6.5-m (21-ft) mirror made of 18 gold-coated hexagons and its tennis-court sized sunshield — was folded up to fit inside the rocket for launch. Now, Webb’s components will start unfolding as the telescope travels to L2.  Over the next month, a carefully choreographed deployment must happen in a specific order for the telescope to function correctly once it arrives.

Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), located in Baltimore Maryland and managed by AURA, is the home of Webb operations and serves as the science community’s interface to the telescope. The STScI Mission Operations Center is where engineers will control and monitor Webb as it deploys and travels to its destination. 

“The team at Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) is fully prepared to commission the observatory and is eagerly anticipating a new era of astronomical research,” said Kenneth Sembach, Director of STScI. “We have practiced every step of the telescope deployment sequence over and over again. We will initiate and monitor more than 300 unique activities and 50 major deployments over the next month to ensure an optimally functioning telescope and prepare to bring Webb’s four science instruments online.”  

Webb’s L2 destination, 1 million miles from Earth, is a gravitationally stable location in space relative to the Earth and the Sun.  After Webb’s arrival at L2, the telescope will take five months to prepare for science. During that time, the Webb team will: ensure that the telescope cools down to operating temperature, fine-tune the mirror alignment, and calibrate its scientific instruments. About six months after launch, Webb will be ready to send its first science images to Earth.

Seeing the Universe in Infrared

The telescope is designed to observe the Universe in infrared light instead of visible light, to detect very faint objects that are extremely far away or shrouded in dust.

“The Webb telescope is exquisitely sensitive and will show us completely new parts of the Universe we have never seen before,” said John Mather, JWST Senior Project Scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “It is so sensitive it could see a bumblebee floating in space at the distance of the Moon from the Earth.”

New Tech for Amazing Science

Webb is the most complicated observatory we have ever sent into space, and its cutting-edge technology will also enable Webb’s unique science objectives. Those objectives – witnessing the first light in the early Universe; understanding how galaxies evolve over cosmic time; observing the birth of stars and planetary systems; examining our own Solar System; and characterizing worlds in other planetary systems (exoplanets) that might harbor life – will be the focus of the scientists using Webb in the coming years.

“The science teams are all eagerly waiting to start their research with Webb,” said Heidi Hammel, a Webb Interdisciplinary Scientist and Vice President for Science at AURA. “The first science will include observations of Jupiter, exoplanets, black holes, formation of galaxies and more.”

Congratulations Webb Team!

But today, AURA celebrates Webb’s launch. Congratulations to the thousands of people whose hard work culminated in today’s successful launch. We will be watching closely as Webb passes each milestone and gets closer to operations. Please join us for an exciting voyage!

SKAO’s Indigenous Astronomy Art Collection Set To Wow Thousands In The Netherlands


Leiden, the Netherlands, 9 November 2021 – Shared Sky: Canvases of the Universe – a cultural look at the starry sky by Aboriginal Australian and South African artists – opened in Leiden’s Old Observatory last month. The exhibition is sponsored by Leiden University, ASTRON (the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy), and the SKA Observatory.

SKAO’s indigenous astronomy art collection set to wow thousands in the Netherlands

Did Venus ever have oceans?

Planet Venus illustration

The planet Venus can be seen as the Earth’s evil twin. At first sight, it is of comparable mass and size as our home planet, similarly consists mostly of rocky material, holds some water and has an atmosphere. Yet, a closer look reveals striking differences between them: Venus’ thick CO2 atmosphere, extreme surface temperature and pressure, and sulphuric acid clouds are indeed a stark contrast to the conditions needed for life on Earth. This may, however, have not always been the case. Previous studies have suggested that Venus may have been a much more hospitable place in the past, with its own liquid water oceans. A team of astrophysicists led by the University of Geneva (UNIGE) and the National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) PlanetS, Switzerland, investigated whether our planet’s twin did indeed have milder periods. The results, published in the journal Nature, suggest that this is not the case. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/10/211013114018.htm

Botswana – International Astronomical Union (IAU) Membership

The XXXI General Assembly Business Sessions of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) ended 23 August 2021. The virtual meetings this week included pre-business The IAU Today sessions, with talks by international prizewinners, IAU PhD Prize winners, and leaders of IAU Offices and Executive Committee Working Groups. 

At the General Assembly Business Sessions, the IAU welcomed Botswana as a new National Member, and Bolivia, Ecuador, and Iraq as Observers. The General Assembly also approved 11 Honorary Members, 281 new Individual Members, and 191 new Junior Members. The fraction of females is 35% among Junior Members, and 21% overall for IAU Members. This is an increase of 3% as compared with 2018.

60 National Representatives voted at the online IAU General Assembly gathered to approve Botswana’s application for full National Membership. The Astronomical Society of Botswana is delighted to report that it was enthusiastically supported!

This is a significant step forward for international links for Astronomy in Botswana.

The link to view the AGM https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xkuSnoiEhk0  and the Botswana vote comes during the first 10-15 minutes 

Jupiter at opposition

FRI, 20 AUG 2021 AT 02:20 CAT (00:20 UTC)

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EarthSky’s August 2021 Guide To Visible Planets

Find these visible planets in August 2021: JupiterSaturnMarsVenusMercury

Throughout the night, around August 19-21, 2021. Watch for the full moon – a Blue Moon – to swing by Saturn and then Jupiter. We show Neptune and Pluto on this chart, but both are invisible without an optical aid Read More

NASA’s Perseverance Team Assessing First Mars Sampling Attempt

The rover continues to explore Jezero Crater while the team assesses today’s activities.

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Meteorite that landed in Botswana tracked to its birthplace in the asteroid belt

A small asteroid barreled through the sky and burned up over the Kalahari Desert of Botswana in the summer of 2018 and now, scientists suspect that the space rock originated from Vesta, the second largest asteroid in the solar system.

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NASA is finally headed back to Venus

On June 2, 2021, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson announced that the agency had selected two winners of its latest Discovery class spacecraft mission competition, and both are headed to the second planet from the Sun.

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Night Skies of Botswana

Stephen O’Meara who lives in the north of Botswana has published his latest book Night Skies of Botswana published by PenguinRandomHouse and is available on order at Exclusive Books in Gaborone and on Amazon. It’s a very informative and excellent book worth buying.

Telescope Donation

In December 2019, the ASB received a donation from the Southport Astronomical Society in the U.K. The generous donation was made to the society by SAS members John and Marjorie Barrow, and the ASB owes many thanks to them all. The donation consisted of a 5” Celestron SLT127 Maksutov Cassegrain astronomical telescope, including all the needed manuals, software and accessories. The logistics, shipping, duty and all else were arranged and paid for by Mr. Michael Dow, chairman of the SAS, Professor Mike Bode and Mr. and  Mrs. Harold Hester of the ASB and Mr. Ian White. Thanks to all of them as well.

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Square Kilometer Array

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is an intergovernmental radio telescope project being planned to be built in Australia and South Africa. Conceived in the 1990s, and further developed and designed by the late-2010s, when completed it will have a total collecting area of approximately one square kilometre sometime in the 2020s. It will operate over a wide range of frequencies and its size will make it 50 times more sensitive than any other radio instrument. It will require very high performance central computing engines and long-haul links with a capacity greater than the global Internet traffic as of 2013. If built as planned, it should be able to survey the sky more than ten thousand times faster than before.

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