NASA unveils the James Webb Space Telescope’s first images

NASA revealed a mosaic of the first images captured today by the revolutionary James Webb Space Telescope, or JWST. The image shows the early stages of the telescope’s 18 primary mirror segments aligned properly before JWST reaches its full potential.

The image is blurry, but this is actually a good starting point in the long process of adjusting the JWST mirrors to produce ultra-sharp images of the distant universe. The 18 points of light that appear in the image all represent the same isolated star, known as HD 84406, as seen through a different segment of the primary mirror. Light collected from each primary mirror segment was reflected back to Webb’s secondary mirror and then measured with one of the telescope’s main imaging instruments, the Near Infrared Camera, or NIRCam. This sensor will be used during the telescope alignment process to identify and correct any optical errors.

The process of collecting the light used to generate the image mosaic took about 25 hours, according to NASA. HD 84406’s 18 images were merged from more than 1,500 images collected as Webb pointed to different positions around the star’s expected location. The mirror will begin to align correctly after the various adjustments the telescope will make over the coming months. Eventually those 18 stars will become one because all the mirror segments are aligned to create a seamless surface.

After quite a few delays, JWST finally launched into space on Christmas Day, ending a decades-long game wait. But the process didn’t stop there. Just days later, the telescope began to take its final shape through a complex two-week unfolding sequence. On January 4, JWST successfully deployed its giant sunshade, which is essential to keep its instruments cold. With the successful deployment of the primary mirror on January 8, all major deployments were completed. On January 24, JWST reached its final orbit in space.

NASA expects the first batch of clear images for scientific observation to come in the summer. But for now, the JWST team is excited about the results of the telescope’s initial imaging and alignment steps, which bring it one step closer to capturing stunning images.

“Launching Webb to space was of course an exciting event, but for scientists and optical engineers this is a pinnacle moment, when light from a star successfully makes its way through the system and down a detector,” said JWST project scientist Michael. McElwain in a blog post


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