We finally have our first James Webb image. At least, the first in-focus image that James Webb Space Telescope has produced. NASA released the image on March 16, 2022, and shared that all critical mirror alignment steps have been completed.
The first James Webb image is breathtaking
The James Webb reached its destination orbit in January. From there, the Webb team began aligning the various instruments that make up the space telescope. Now, we’re finally starting to see just how powerful those instruments can be when they work together.
NASA says that the Webb team completed the fine phasing alignment stage on March 11. With that stage completed, all 18 segments of the James Webb Telescope’s mirrors have been properly aligned to work together. Now that they’re completely aligned, the mirrors will be able to pull in light and deliver it to the various instruments situated on the spacecraft.
In this first James Webb image, we can see a central star, shining brightly in the photo. The star is encircled by dots, lines, and spirals. Each of these represents a star or galaxy in the background. It’s a breathtaking view, and one that showcases just what makes the James Webb such a promising piece of tech for exploring space.
With this new photo, we’re finally seeing what it looks like when all the James Webb’s mirrors work together as one. By pulling in light and then putting it all together, the James Webb can process images of distant stars and galaxies at a level of detail that we really weren’t able to achieve before.
This first James Webb image isn’t even as good as it gets, either. With fine phasing, the Webb team has aligned Webb’s primary imager, the Near-Infrared Camera, to work with the mirrors on the spacecraft. Next, they’ll need to align the other instruments together, too.
NASA says these adjustments will take place over the next six weeks. During that time the team will align the Near-Infrared Spectrograph, Mid-Infrared Instrument, and New InfraRed imager and Slitless Spectrograph further. The team will then make final alignment changes before putting the James Webb to work.
Exceeding its goals
While the first James Webb image is exceptional, there’s plenty more to look forward to. The Webb team says that it already has a year of observations planned out. It hopes to start working on those when final alignments finish in May.
NASA says every optical parameter the team checked and tested is performing at or above the expectations set for it. That’s an amazing thing to hear, especially with so many plans for the James Webb already in the works. Further, the success of the James Webb telescope’s design could be used for other telescopes in the future.
“More than 20 years ago, the Webb team set out to build the most powerful telescope that anyone has ever put in space and came up with an audacious optical design to meet demanding science goals,” Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said in the press release. He finished, “Today we can say that design is going to deliver.”
While we don’t know much about the plans NASA has for the James Webb, we can at least look forward to more fascinating photos, like the latest photo from the Hubble telescope.