(ORDO NEWS) — An initial series of images taken by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope shows that the spacecraft’s primary mirror is working as expected.
NASA released on Friday (February 11) a mosaic of images taken by one of the JWST instruments, the Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam). The images are from a search for light from the star HD 84406. Because the segmented JWST primary is not yet aligned, there are 18 images of the star in the mosaic, one for each segment.
This result was in line with what project officials expected to see at this early stage in mirror alignment. “Initial results are very similar to our simulations,” Lee Feinberg, JWST Optical Telescope Elements Specialist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, told reporters.
“At this point, we have been able to analyze several images that help us understand the mirror alignment process, and we do not see anything to cause concern.”
But that doesn’t mean they can rule out any major flaws in the mirrors, such as the infamous spherical aberration problem with the Hubble Space Telescope’s primary mirror.
“It’s too early to say that there are definitely no major problems here,” he said. “But if there was a big, serious flaw, I think maybe we would see it now, but we don’t see it now.”
This photo mosaic is just the first step in a three-month process to agree on 18 core mission segments. The next steps will involve moving the mirror segments so that the images they create are stacked at one point and then incrementally within the same wavelength of light, followed by calibration for other instruments in the telescope.
“We’re almost on track with the mirror alignment schedule,” said Marshall Perrin, first deputy at the Space Telescope Science Institute. Some steps took a little longer than expected, while others were completed faster than planned. “We are within a day or so of the original pre-flight schedule.”
The initial shots also served as a test for NIRCam itself. “My team and I have been working on NIRCam for over 20 years, and the excitement of finally being able to get some light through the telescope onto the NIRCam detector was really amazing,” said Marcia Riquet, NIRCam Principal Investigator at the University of Arizona.
These images have confirmed that NIRCam is working as intended. “We got beautiful – at least beautiful for someone who has worked on NIRCam for a long time – images,” she said. “We were happy”.
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