NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Captures Its First-Ever Images
By Mikelle Leow, 12 Feb 2022
Image via NASA
NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to Hubble, might have had a slow start (it was originally intended for launch in 2007), but things have truly lifted off the ground and it’s now produced its first images since taking off on Christmas Day.
One of the first things it did was snap a whole collection of an unnamed star (shown above) from the 18 segments of its main mirror. The photos were then stitched into an 18-piece mosaic, each reflecting a segment.
Webb is anticipated to be 100 times more powerful than Hubble, a strength that wouldn’t be obvious if you looked at this blurry image. In truth, this result is all engineers are looking for at the moment—they’re simply using it to align the 18 mirror segments via a New Infrared Camera (NIRCam) instrument so that they all adjust into one view. NASA says it is reaching completion for the first stage of this calibration, which has taken some months now.
If anything, the collage proves that the NIRCam is functioning and capable of collecting and identifying light from celestial objects. This is crucial because Webb is designed to help observe the light of the first stars and galaxies to have emerged after the Big Bang, which Hubble wasn’t able to detect.
The mosaic was the effect of a nearly 25-hour process where James Webb was pointed to 156 different positions, giving 1,560 images. What the public sees is just the center of the full image. The entire mosaic measures more than two gigapixels.
The telescope didn’t let its photography skills go to waste the moment it was able to use them. It also took an obligatory “selfie” depicting its 21.3-foot-wide primary mirror. Vanity’s sake aside, you’ll see here why aligning the mirror parts is a priority. Only one of the 18 segments appears to brightly reflect a star.
Image via NASA
“This amazing telescope has not only spread its wings, but it has now opened its eyes,” remarks James Webb optical elements manager Lee Feinberg.
“The only thing I want to caution is that it’s still very early. We don’t have detailed evaluations of everything at this point. But from our preliminary evaluations, everything is matching the models as well as we would expect the models to work at this point.”
Webb’s camera is only going to improve from here on out. NASA anticipates that the first scientifically useful images from the telescope should be available this summer.
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