The James Webb Space Telescope captures its first images of a star


the James Webb Space Telescope finally captured its first image of a star – or rather, images. NASA has share a mosaic of images (shown above) of a star taken using the 18 segments of the primary mirror. It looks like a seemingly random collection of fuzzy dots, but that’s precisely what the mission team expected. The imagery will help scientists complete the lengthy process of aligning the mirror using the telescope’s near-infrared camera, or NIRCam. The first phase is nearly complete as of this writing.

The visuals come from a 25-hour effort that pointed the James Webb Space Telescope at 156 different positions and produced 1,560 images with the NIRCam sensors. The team created the mosaic using the signature of each mirror segment in a single frame. The visual artifacts come from using the infrared camera in temperatures well above the freezing conditions the telescope will need for scientific observation. And what you see here isn’t the entire mosaic – the full resolution snapshot is over two gigapixels.

Selfie of the primary mirror of the James Webb Space Telescope

NASA also provided a rare real-world glimpse of the JWST in action. The agency provided a “selfie” of the primary mirror (middle) created by a NIRCam pupil imaging lens. This too is blurry, but it offers valuable insight into the fully deployed mirror and helps explain the importance of alignment. Notice how a single segment is brightly lit by a star? It is the only one aligned with this celestial body – it will be some time before all the segments work together.

The researchers expect the first scientifically useful images from the JWST this summer. It’s reasonable to assume that these images will be considerably more exciting, especially as they begin to provide insight into the early universe. Still, what you see here demonstrates the telescope’s health and suggests that there won’t be many problems in the months ahead.

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