The Next Great Observatory sharpens its view on its way to unlocking the mysteries of the universe.
The James Webb Space Telescope Launched in December, reaching its station about 1 million miles (1.5 million km) from Earth in January, it was working hard to prepare to conduct the science for which the $10 billion mission was designed. The spacecraft achieved another major milestone in its preparations when it completed “accurate staging” on March 11, the agency announced Wednesday (March 16).
The telescope has also met everything optical parameter engineers need as it delivers light cleanly to its instruments. This achievement makes NASA fully confident that the observatory will achieve its scientific goals.
“We aligned the telescope and focused it entirely on a star, and the performance was beyond spec. We’re excited about what this means for the science,” said Ritva Keski-Koha, deputy director of the Optical Telescope Element at Webb at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. at NASA statment. “We now know we built the right telescope.”
The new image focuses on a star 2MASS J17554042 + 6551277 is called according to the statement. This represents a new objective for the observatory: the previous steps of the commissioning process centered HD 84406a star in the constellation Ursa Major located about 241 light-years from Earth.
Other stars and galaxies not identified by the agency also appear in the background.
JWST’s observing power comes in part from the telescope’s massive mirror, which extends across 21 feet (6.5 meters). But a mirror of this size cannot be fired as is, so the observatory’s designers divided the gold surface into 18 individually adjustable hexagons.
For weeks, engineers on the mission have been fine-tuning the alignment of those parts to bring the universe into focus for the massive observatory. NASA confirmed that this process is not yet complete, but the most difficult and worrying steps are now behind the team.
“More than 20 years ago, the Webb team set out to build the most powerful telescope anyone has ever put into space and came up with a bold optical design to meet challenging science goals,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate director of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in the statement. “Today we can say that the design will be successful.”
The agency also released a “selfie” using a lens designed to image the primary mirror to help engineers during alignment.
Once the mirror’s alignment is complete – possibly by early May – the team’s other major preparatory step is the calibration of the instruments aboard the observatory, NASA said. This work is expected to be completed by the summer, when the JWST will be able to begin its scientific observations.
The observatory’s scientific agenda includes addressing topics such as understanding the early days of the universe, assessing the habitability of exoplanets and determining the influence of mysterious dark matter on the universe.
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