The four science instruments on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope achieved “perfect alignment” ahead of the telescope’s official debut this summer, project officials said in a news teleconference on Monday (May 9).
“I am delighted to report that the telescope alignment was completed with even better performance than we had anticipated,” Michael McElwain, James Webb Space Telescope said the project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, according to CBS News. “Basically we achieve perfect alignment of the telescope. There are no adjustments to the telescope’s optics that will materially improve 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, versus observations of the same galaxy taken earlier by NASA’s now-retired Spitzer Space Telescope.
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While the Spitzer image shows a blur of seven or more nearby stars located in the Large Magellanic Cloud (a satellite galaxy orbiting the Milky Way), Webb’s image of the same region captures the foreground stars in great detail, offset by faint interstellar clouds. gas and hundreds of background stars and galaxies, captured in what calls from nasa “Unprecedented detail.”
With its instruments lined up, the Webb telescope awaits a final calibration of the instrument before it officially begins studying distant stars later this summer, NASA said. In July, the telescope will share its first set of science images, targeting galaxies and objects that “highlight all of Webb’s science themes…from the earliest universeto galaxies over time, to the life cycle of stars and to other worlds,” Klaus Pontoppidan, Webb project scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, told the news 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 segments of hexagonal mirrors, linked into one 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 primary mirror measuring about 7.8 feet (2.4 m) across, 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 dim light from the earliest stars in the universe, which date to about 13.8 billion years ago, just millions of years after the big Bang.
Originally published on Live Science.