Webb has been hailed as the world’s premier space observatory, and has successfully completed a number of steps over the past few months that have been critical to aligning the eighteen golden mirror segments.
Webb’s first high-resolution images of the universe aren’t expected until the end of June, when the observatory’s instruments still need to be calibrated. But test results released by NASA on Thursday show clear, well-focused images that the observatory’s four instruments can capture. Together, these images share the telescope’s full field of view. Webb’s mirrors direct focused light from space into each instrument and these instruments capture images.
For the test, Webb observed a nearby small satellite galaxy called the Large Magellanic Cloud. The galaxy’s dense field of hundreds of thousands of stars can be seen in the test images.
“These wonderful test images from a successfully aligned telescope show 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.
The telescope team expects that the observatory may exceed the goals it was supposed to achieve because it is already performing better than expected.
“These images profoundly changed the way I see the universe,” Scott Acton, Webb wavefront sensing and control scientist at Ball Aerospace, said in a statement. “We are surrounded by the symphony of creation; there are galaxies everywhere! I hope everyone in the world can see them.”
An earlier image shared in March also showed that Webb can use individual parts of his mirror as a giant mirror measuring 21 feet 4 inches (6.5 meters) and capture light from a single star.
Over the next two months, the team will ensure that all scientific instruments are calibrated.
Each instrument contains a number of specialized detectors with dedicated equipment to help achieve Webb’s scientific goals, and all instruments must be configured before they are declared ready.
And this summer, we’ll get Webb’s first glimpses that can unlock the mysteries of the universe.