The NASA James Webb Space Telescope gives us an incredible image of a star

The NASA James Webb Space Telescope gives us an incredible image of a star

Following the completion of the critical mirror alignment steps, NASA's James Webb Space Telescope team expects Webb's optical performance will be able to meet or exceed the scientific objectives for which the observatory was built. >
On 11 March, the Webb team completed the alignment phase known as “end phasing”. In this key phase of the commissioning of Webb's optical telescope element, each optical parameter that has been checked and tested is performing at or above expectations. The team also encountered no critical issues and no measurable contamination or blockage of Webb's optical path. The observatory is able to successfully collect light from distant objects and deliver it to its instruments without problems.

“More than 20 years ago, the Webb team decided to build the most powerful telescope anyone has never sent into space and devised a bold optical design to meet the most demanding scientific objectives, ”said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Today we can say that the design is about to pay off.”

While some of the largest ground-based telescopes on Earth already use segmented primary mirrors, Webb is the first telescope in space to use such a design. The 6.5-meter primary mirror, too large to fit inside a rocket fairing, is made up of 18 hexagonal beryllium mirror segments. It had to be folded for launch and then unfolded into space before each mirror was adjusted, within nanometers, to form a single mirror surface.

Credits: NASA James Webb Space Telescope “In addition to enabling the incredible science that Webb will achieve, the teams that have designed, built, tested, launched and now operate this observatory, have paved the way for a new way to build space telescopes, ”said Lee Feinberg, Webb optical telescope element manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

With the telescope alignment phase completed, the team has now Webb's main imager, the Near-Infrared Camera, is completely aligned with the observatory mirrors. “We have fully aligned and focused the telescope on a star, and the performance is beating the specs. We are excited about what this means for science, ”said Ritva Keski-Kuha, deputy head of optical telescope elements for Webb at NASA Goddard. "Now we know we have built the right telescope".

The team is well on its way to finalizing all aspects of aligning the telescope's optical elements by the beginning of May, if not earlier, before moving on to about two months of preparing the scientific instruments. Webb's first full-resolution images and science data will be released in the summer.

Webb is the world's premier space science observatory, and once fully operational it will help solve mysteries in our solar system, look beyond distant worlds around other stars and probing the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partners from ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.

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