We have been following the travels of the James Webb Space Telescope, and it has arrived at is destination one million miles from Earth.
The instrument has now sent back its first images as part of the complex process of aligning its array of mirror.
The first images captured by the James Webb Space Telescope were unveiled Friday: a “selfie” showing the observatory’s 21.3-foot-wide primary mirror and a mosaic showing multiple images of a nondescript star being used to align the 18 segments making up the telescope’s main mirror.
While the blurry, misaligned pictures might disappoint the uninitiated, they are almost exactly what engineers were expecting at this point in the observatory’s complex commissioning, 48 days after its Christmas Day launch.
In the process of aligning the 18 hexagonal mirrors of the James Webb Space Telescope, NASA engineers took a selfie of the telescope https://t.co/JXOTtpn7tJ
— New Scientist (@newscientist) February 12, 2022
The telescope also sent back images of an alignment mosaic, as it uses one particular star during the alignment process. Scientists are very happy at the success so far.
The main photo, which doesn’t even hint at the power Webb will bring to the universe once it’s fully operational, shows a star called HD 84406 and is only a portion of the mosaic taken over 25 hours beginning on Feb. 2, during the ongoing process to align the observatory’s segmented mirror.
“The entire Webb team is ecstatic at how well the first steps of taking images and aligning the telescope are proceeding,” Marcia Rieke, principal investigator of the instrument that Webb relies on for the alignment procedure and an astronomer at the University of Arizona, said in a NASA statement.
…The process is going well, according to NASA.
“This initial search covered an area about the size of the full moon because the segment dots could potentially have been that spread out on the sky,” Marshall Perrin, the deputy telescope scientist for Webb and an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute, said in the same statement. “Taking so much data right on the first day required all of Webb’s science operations and data processing systems here on Earth working smoothly with the observatory in space right from the start. And we found light from all 18 segments very near the center early in that search! This is a great starting point for mirror alignment.”
— SPACE.com (@SPACEdotcom) February 11, 2022
If operations continue to go so smoothly, even more detailed pictures will be available this summer.
“This amazing telescope has not only spread its wings, but it has now opened its eyes,” Lee Feinberg, Webb’s optical telescope element manager at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said Friday in a news briefing.
…Over the coming months, Webb’s instruments will be fully calibrated and its primary mirror will need to achieve an ultraprecise alignment to function as one single entity. Once that happens, its images will become clearer and packed with more detail. The mission’s first scientific images are expected to be released in the summer, NASA said.
So far, the $10 billion observatory appears to be healthy and operating well, but Feinberg said there’s still much more work to be done.
“This is still early, but we are very encouraged with what we’re seeing,” he said.
Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.