In Photos: The Webb Telescope Is Finally Focused And Just Sent Back 10 Jaw-Dropping New Hi-Def Images

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is now fully aligned and focused.

NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) has confirmed that all of the space observatory’s imaging instruments have passed with flying colors after the seventh and final round of testing.

Webb is the most ambitious and complex space science telescope ever constructed, with a massive 6.5-meter primary mirror that will be able to detect the faint light of far-away stars and galaxies. It’s designed solely to detect infrared light emitted by distant stars, planets and clouds of gas and dust.

It’s observing from about a million miles from Earth, but will see light from the first stars and the earliest galaxies.

Here are its first images:

These first images— a set of 10 released to the public—constitute the observatory’s full field of view while being pointed at the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a small satellite galaxy of the Milky Way that can be seen naked-eye from the southern hemisphere.

The sizes and positions of the images shown here depict the relative arrangement of each of Webb’s instruments in the telescope’s focal plane, each pointing at a slightly offset part of the sky relative to one another.

There are four science instruments on board JWST:

  • NIRCam (Near Infrared Camera): to detect light from the earliest stars and galaxies. It has a coronagraph so it can block a star’s light, which helps in the search for planets orbiting nearby stars.
  • IRISS (Near Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph): for ‘first light’ detection of the first stars, and for detecting exoplanets as they cross their star.
  • NIRSpec (Near InfraRed Spectrograph): a spectrometer to disperse light from an object into a spectrum. This instrument can observe 100 objects simultaneously.
  • MIRI (Mid-Infrared Instrument): a camera and a spectrograph that sees light in the mid-infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum. Primarily for better-than-Hubble wide-field astrophotography images.

Although it’s NIRCam and NIRSpec that will be doing a lot of the cutting-edge science, it’s the MIRI camera that will likely give us incredible better-than-Hubble wide-field astrophotography images.

In this first set of images it’s the one from MIRI that stands out:

Look carefully and you can see emission from interstellar clouds as well as starlight.

As a bonus, calibration images from the observatory’s Fine Guidance Sensor were also released. It uses two sensors to point the observatory accurately and precisely, so it’s actually not there to do scientific imaging.

“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,” said Lee Feinberg, Webb optical telescope element manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

“These images have profoundly changed the way I see the universe,” said Scott Acton, Webb wavefront sensing and controls scientist, Ball Aerospace. “We are surrounded by a symphony of creation; there are galaxies everywhere! It is my hope that everyone in the world can see them.”

NASA also released a short video to accompany the images:

It’s initial 10-year mission Webb will study the solar system, directly image exoplanets, photograph the first galaxies, and explore the mysteries of the origins of the Universe.

So what’s next for the $8.8 billion telescope?

It will now take two months of science instrument commissioning before we likely see a series of “first light” photos hand-picked to show-off the telescope’s abilities to their fullest extent.

Only then can the science begin.

It’s initial 10-year mission Webb will study the solar system, directly image exoplanets, photograph the first galaxies, and explore the mysteries of the origins of the Universe.

Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.

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