(ORDO NEWS) — We’ve just seen the first close-up of the James Webb Space Telescope hard at work in deep space.
A special lens in the telescope’s near-infrared camera (NIRCam) instrument allowed engineers to look at Webb’s mirror alignment and at the same time get a great picture of the telescope itself.
Engineers are now also confident that NIRCam is successfully receiving light, which is critical to achieving the ultimate goal of helping to image deep-sky objects.
“I think pretty much the reaction to the selfies has been amazing,” Lee Feinberg, element manager for the Webb Optical Telescope at NASA’s Goddard Space Center, said of his team’s reaction to the selfies during a media interview on Friday (February 11).
“Even when we were testing in Houston, we didn’t have starlight illuminating the main mirror. So it was actually something new for us,” Feinberg said, adding that the tests on Earth were done with LED lighting. .
He noted that NIRCam’s new look “wowed the team, and that’s one of the reasons I think people wanted to share it.”
NIRCam is capable of taking pictures of 18 major mirror segments and has created selfies for engineers, NASA said in a blog post on Friday (February 11).
The image shows a bright specular segment pointing towards a bright star while the others are not yet aligned in that direction. Engineers are adjusting the mirrors for possible scientific observations in a few months.
“NIRCam will be used for almost the entire duration of the alignment of the telescope’s mirrors,” NASA said of the alignment process.
As Webb continues to cool, “artifacts” will shrink and the telescope will be better equipped to do its job, NASA added. The telescope is designed to operate in the infrared (thermal) wavelength range and, therefore, must be sufficiently “cool” to perform this work.
Webb’s position at the Lagrange point keeps him away from the heat of the Sun and Earth, and the sun visor prevents light from accidentally shining on the telescope’s instruments and optics.
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