The four science instruments of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope have achieved “perfect alignment” ahead of the telescope’s official debut this summer, project officials said during a press conference call Monday (May 9).
“I am delighted to report that the telescope alignment has been completed with even better performance than we anticipated,” said Michael McElwain, James Webb Space Telescope project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland said, according to CBS News. “We have essentially achieved perfect telescope alignment. There are no adjustments to the telescope optics that would provide material improvements to our science performance.”
To illustrate the telescope’s readiness, NASA shared a teaser image taken by Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument, or MIRI. The new image shows a side-by-side comparison of observations of a nearby galaxy taken by Webb, compared to observations of the same galaxy taken previously by NASA’s now-retired Spitzer Space Telescope.
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While Spitzer’s image shows a blur of about seven nearby stars located in the Large Magellanic Cloud (a satellite galaxy that orbits the Milky Way), the Webb image of the same region captures foreground stars in crisp detail, offset by wispy clouds of interstellar gas and hundreds of background stars and galaxies, captured in this NASA Calls “unprecedented detail.”
With its instruments lined up, the Webb Telescope is awaiting final instrument calibration before officially beginning to study distant stars later this summer, NASA said. In July, the telescope will share its first suite of science images, targeting galaxies and objects that “highlight all of the Webb science themes…from the start. universeto galaxies over time, the life cycle of stars and other worlds,” Klaus Pontoppidan, Webb project scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, said at the press conference.
NASA launched the $10 billion Webb Telescope on December 25, 2021, sending the telescope on a 930,000 mile (1.5 million kilometer) journey to its final position in the sky. The telescope is made up of 18 hexagonal mirror segments, assembled into a large 21-foot-wide (6.4 m) mirror. The design allowed the telescope’s mirror system to be folded inside a rocket at launch – unlike Webb’s predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, which just a main mirror which measures about 7.8 feet (2.4 m) in diameter, Live Science previously reported.
Scientists predict that Webb will be able to image distant objects up to 100 times too weak for the Hubble Space Telescope to see. The telescope was designed to observe the faint light of the first stars in the universe, dating from around 13.8 billion years ago – just a few million years after the big Bang.
Originally posted on Live Science.