All four science instruments on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope have achieved “perfect alignment” ahead of their official debut this summer, project officials said in a news conference call Monday (May 9).
“I am pleased to report that the telescope’s alignment has been completed with better performance than we expected,” said Michael McElwain, James Webb Space Telescope project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.
“We’ve basically come up with a perfect telescope alignment. There is no modification to the telescope’s optics that would materially improve our science performance.”
To illustrate the telescope’s readiness, NASA has 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, versus observations of the same galaxy previously taken by NASA’s now retired Spitzer Space Telescope.
Above: The Large Magellanic Cloud, as seen by Spitzer, left, and JWST, right.
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While the Spitzer image shows a blur of seven or so nearby stars located in the Large Magellanic Cloud (a satellite galaxy orbiting the Milky Way), Webb’s image of the same region captures foreground stars in fine detail, offset by soft clouds of interstellar gas and hundreds of stars and background galaxies, captured in what NASA calls “unprecedented detail”.
NASA said the Webb Telescope is awaiting final instrument calibration after its instruments are aligned before it officially begins studying distant stars later this summer.
In July, the telescope will share its first set of scientific images, targeting galaxies and objects that “highlight all Web science topics…from the early universe, to galaxies over time, to the life cycle of stars, and to other worlds,” said Klaus Pontopedan. , Webb Project Scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, 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 km) journey to its final location in the sky. The telescope consists of 18 hexagonal mirror segments, fitted together into one large mirror, 21 feet (6.4 m) wide.
The design allowed the telescope’s mirror system to bend inside a rocket upon launch — unlike Webb’s predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, which has only one primary mirror about 7.8 feet (2.4 meters) in diameter, Live Science previously reported.
Scientists expect Webb to be able to image distant objects up to 100 times too faint to be seen by the Hubble Space Telescope.
The telescope is designed to observe the dim light of the oldest stars in the universe, dating back about 13.8 billion years – just millions of years after the Big Bang.
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This article was originally published by Live Science. Read the original article here.