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James Webb Space Telescope has unfolded 1st wing of massive golden mirror

An animation shows the deployment of the port side of the primary mirror of the James Webb Space Telescope.
An animation shows the deployment of the port side of the primary mirror of the James Webb Space Telescope. (Image credit: NASA)

The iconic golden mirror of NASA's massive new observatory is taking shape.

The James Webb Space Telescope unfolded the panel that carries the three leftmost segments of its hexagonal gold-coated primary mirror on Friday (Jan. 7). Nearly two weeks after the observatory's launch, the successful maneuver brings the telescope close to its final form.

"Webb's iconic primary mirror is taking its final shape. Today, the first of two primary mirror wings, or side panels, was deployed and latched successfully," NASA officials wrote in a statement (opens in new tab).

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Team members will repeat the process on the right, or starboard, side of the observatory on Saturday (Jan. 8). NASA has said it will broadcast the procedure live from mission control beginning around 9 a.m. EST (1400 GMT).

Completing the full hexagon with the two panel deployments will mark the end of the major unfolding steps for the observatory after its launch on Dec. 25. To mark the milestone, NASA has also said it will hold a news conference on Saturday around 1:30 p.m. EST (1830 GMT).

Fully deployed, the primary mirror will stretch 21 feet (6.5 meters) across. In the coming days, the JWST team will tweak the arrangement of the 18 individual mirror segments, each of which is controlled by seven actuators, according to a deployment timeline (opens in new tab) provided by NASA. The team will continue adjusting the mirror segments throughout the five-month commissioning process, which will turn Webb's view from a patchwork of 18 frames into one smooth image.

The observatory also has about two more weeks of travel before it reaches its station orbiting the Earth-sun Lagrange point 2, or L2, which is located nearly 1 million miles (about 1.5 million kilometers) away from Earth on the side opposite the sun. JWST will execute a third and final course correction burn to reach orbit; the first two burns occurred shortly after launch.

Webb is expected to begin science observations this summer.

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Meghan is a senior writer at Space.com and has more than five years' experience as a science journalist based in New York City. She joined Space.com in July 2018, with previous writing published in outlets including Newsweek and Audubon. Meghan earned an MA in science journalism from New York University and a BA in classics from Georgetown University, and in her free time she enjoys reading and visiting museums. Follow her on Twitter at @meghanbartels.