James Webb, the world’s most power telescope, is finally unfolded, and ready to observe the universe, and peer into the most distant light in space, NASA reports.
For the past months, the $10 billion space observatory has been in the process of aligning itself for use, and has now completed all necessary steps, unleashing its 18 gold mirror segment.
Due to its massive size, the telescope, which was launched on Christmas day of 2021, was folded into a rocket. Webb then started unfolding and aligning its mirrors after orbiting a million miles away from earth in January.
James Webb was designed to peep into distant planets to determine whether there are worlds that are habitable for humans. The observatory is also going to take a look 13.5 billion years back into the past, to observe the pioneer stars that ended the darkness which was theorised to have gripped the cosmos shortly after the event of the Big Bang. Webb is expected to do this through the use of infrared light, which is invisible to human eyes.
The telescope is expected to take images of those times, and beam it back to the ground station, where it would be use for research purposes. The first set of high-resolution images collected by Webb is not expected till June, given that the giant mirror still has to go through self-calibration.
Yesterday, NASA posted test-shots of crystal clear and well-focused images that the telescope is capable of taking. The images show the telescope’s full field of view. Webb’s mirrors are directing focused light from space into each instrument and those instruments are capturing images.
During the test-shot, the telescope observed the Large Magellanic Cloud, which is a small neighbouring satellite galaxy. The galaxy’s dense field of hundreds of thousands of stars can be seen in the test images.
“These remarkable test images from a successfully aligned telescope demonstrate what people across countries and continents can achieve when there is a bold scientific vision to explore the universe,” Lee Feinberg, Webb optical telescope element manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center said.
The team of engineers working with James Webb explained their optimism about the telescope performing more than it is expected of it due to its recent performances, which is beyond its target.
“These images have profoundly changed the way I see the universe. We are surrounded by a symphony of creation; there are galaxies everywhere! It is my hope that everyone in the world can see them,” Scott Acton, Webb wavefront sensing and controls scientist at Ball Aerospace, said.
In an image from the James Webb, which was shared in March, it shows that the telescope is capable of capturing the light from a single star, using the individual segments of its mirror as one giant 21-foot, 4-inch (6.5-meter) mirror.
James Webb is expected to complete its calibration in a couple of months, with the first glimpse into the first light of the past happening as soon as the coming summer.
Webb was designed as a collaborative efforts of the US, European, and Canadian space agencies, and was named after the architect of one of the Apollo Moon landings. It left Earth enclosed in an Ariane 5 rocket, and launched from Kourou Space Centre in French Guiana.