The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has taken its first photo and it is stunning.
The image, released today by NASA, is a composite that shows light from a star reflected off by each of the gold-plated segments of the telescope primary mirror.
Over the next month, engineers will make a number of minuscule adjustments to-bring all 18 of hexagonal segments in-to alignment.
Michael McElwain, Scientist of the Webb Observatory Project, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, says this image represents a critical step for a current project that has been under-way for decades.
“Launching Webb telescope into space was obviously an exciting event, but for scientists & optical engineers, it’s a highlight,” he says.
The image will help engineers align mirror segments
The subject of the photo, HD 84406, is a bright star in constellation Ursa Major. In night sky, it appears just to the right of Big Dipper. Engineers chose star because there are no nearby stars which would contaminate the image.
Webb telescope began taking the image on February 2, according to NASA. In 25 hours, the telescope pointed at 156 positions in space about the size of full moon as it appears from Earth, according to Marshall Perrin, deputy telescope scientist for Webb & an astronomer at Space Telescope Science Institute.
The 10 detectors of the nearby infrared camera have a total of 1,560 images, that were stitched together into mosaic of about 2 billion pixels.
“To get so much data right on first day one requires all of Webb’s science operations & data processing systems here on Earth had to work seamlessly with the observatory in space right from start,” he says.
Each segment of primary mirror is currently functions as its own telescope, according to Lee Feinberg, Webb Optical Telescope manager.
“We’ve identified all 18 points, and the next step is to create a series of them,” to determine how each of the mirrors should be adjudged so that they’re aligned, Feinberg says.
Eventually the mirrors will be focused & tilted so that they work together as one mirror.
If all goes according to plan, the telescope will start capturing research-quality images by the summer.
“This fantastic telescope has not only spread its wings, but it now opened its eyes,” says Feinberg.