The James Webb Space Telescope has snapped its first in-focus image. The milestone comes after the mission team spent the last few weeks aligning its mirrors, and the telescope is now set to meet or even exceed its original science goals. It was also recently spotted by another spacecraft in the area.
The JWST is comprised of 18 big golden mirrors, which all gather light from cosmic sources and focus it onto the image sensor. After the rigors of launch and deployment, however, all of these mirrors were pointing in slightly different directions, so they needed to be aligned to focus on the same object.
And now that process is complete, bringing the primary imaging instrument, the Near-Infrared Camera, into alignment with the mirrors. The team tested how well the mirrors had aligned by pointing the telescope at a bright star called 2MASS J17554042+6551277, and sure enough the resulting image is crystal clear. In fact, it’s the highest resolution infrared image ever captured from space.
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At the risk of fan-boy-ing like all topsy, I think the above is just exciting as all get-out! Granted that this is just a first image, but then remember back to the first images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and the astonishing sights it revealed after that, particularly the Deep Field. Even as the Hubble reveal stellar wonders we could hardly have imagined before it was launched into orbit, so I suspect that we are in for at least as spectacular ride with the JWST.