NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope mirror beats expectations as alignment continues

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has completed another important step in aligning the mirror and has released the highest infrared image ever captured from space.

Less than two months ago, the James Webb Space Telescope took its first images in space. The images were taken of the star HD84406 in the constellation Ursa Major and displayed Webb’s 18 mirror segments, which have not yet been aligned to create a single clear image. Scientists working on Webb have spent the past two months making small adjustments to the alignment of the mirrors to produce a single, unified image from the telescope’s NIRCam or primary imaging instrument.

On March 11, NASA announced the completion of the “micro-staging” phase of the alignment – the second of seven increasingly microscopic stages. This critical stage is very close to the final stages of the alignment, but small adjustments still need to be made. Earth controllers have been working for months to align sections within a few nanometers – billionths of a meter – from each other. It could be late summer 2022 before all Webb’s hardware is fully calibrated and ready for use.

While the purpose of this image was to focus on the bright star in the center to assess the alignment, the Webb and NIRCam optics are so sensitive that galaxies and stars appear in the background. In this stage of Webb’s mirror alignment, known as “microphases,” each of the primary mirror segments was modified to produce a single, uniform image of the same star using only the NIRCam tool. This image of the star, called 2MASS J17554042 + 6551277, uses a red filter to improve visual contrast.
Credits: NASA/STScI

However, upon completion of the careful staging, a new image from deep space was captured and published. Although Webb’s alignment will require additional adjustments in the near future, NASA claims that this image of the star 2MASS J17554042 + 6551277, with clips of the Webb mirror in near-perfect alignment, is the highest image ever taken in space.

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NASA has released a statement explaining how the JWST is performing better than expected. “Every optical parameter checked and tested performed at or above expectations. The team also found no critical issues, no pollution, or measurable obstructions in Webb’s optical path. The observatory is able to successfully collect light from distant objects and deliver it to its instruments without issue.”

Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, stated, “More than 20 years ago, the Webb team set out to build the most powerful telescope anyone has ever put into space and created a bold optical design to meet scientific goals. Today we can say that the design will achieve Success “.

It will be months before Webb can provide actionable, calibrated images of the universe, but scientists and fans of the project alike are already optimistic and excited to see what Webb discovers.

According to NASA, the next six weeks will be spent on the commissioning, calibration, and testing of complex scientific instruments, including the near-infrared spectrometer, the mid-infrared instrument, the near-infrared imaging and non-slit spectrometers. At this point in the process, an algorithm will evaluate the performance of each instrument and then calculate the final corrections needed to achieve a well-coordinated telescope across all scientific instruments.

NASA claims Webb’s team is on track to complete all aspects of the optical telescope’s element alignment by early May, if not sooner, before moving on to nearly two months of scientific instrument preparations. If all goes according to plan, the first full-resolution web images and scientific data will be released early this summer.

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

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope mirror beats expectations as alignment continues

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