NASA’s view of deep space just got clearer.
The James Webb Space Telescope has completed its tuning phase after demonstrating that it can capture “clear, well-focused images” with all four of its science instruments, the agency said on Wednesday (April 28).
This milestone, which NASA has shown in several new Webb images, allows the mission team to begin commissioning the science instruments. Thus, the telescope will enter a new phase of preparation after several months of mirror and instrument alignment. This next step will take approximately two months, with Webb remaining on track for completion in June if all goes according to plan.
“These images have fundamentally changed the way I see the universe,” Scott Acton, Webb’s wavefront researcher and monitor from Ball Aerospace, said in a NASA statement. “We are surrounded by the symphony of creation; there are galaxies everywhere. I hope everyone in the world can see them.”
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It has been a busy period for the $10 billion telescope since its December 25, 2021 launch. First, Webb had to go into deep space, a process that took almost a month, and then he had a complicated seven-step alignment process. to get through. Each milestone went pretty much according to plan, with small changes needed along the way.
A week ago, Webb reported that the scope’s 18 hexagonal segments of the primary mirror had been almost completely cooled to the deep-space temperatures needed to see objects clearly in infrared light. Now the mirrors seem to be ready, as they send “fully focused light” to each instrument, which in turn produces images.
“The optical performance of the telescope continues to be better than the engineering team’s most optimistic predictions,” NASA officials said in a statement, noting that image quality is “limited only by diffraction.” (That means the only hurdle to observing fine detail is the size of the telescope, not a performance issue.) From now on, the agency added, mirror alignment will require only minor adjustments.
The next stage of work will include the commissioning of scientific instruments, as well as the calibration of the telescope. Commissioning instruments requires lenses, masks, filters, and other equipment to work correctly in a variety of configurations to ensure they can do scientific work.
In terms of calibration steps, there is a list of steps that Webb will need to go through before it is declared to be working.
“The telescope will be ordered to point to different areas of the sky where the total amount of solar radiation hitting the observatory will vary to confirm thermal stability as targets change,” NASA officials said of the calibration.
“In addition, ongoing maintenance observations every two days will monitor the alignment of the mirrors and make adjustments as needed to keep the mirrors in their aligned locations,” they added.
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