James Webb Space Telescope Passes Key Setup Milestone

What happened now? NASA recently completed a series of major mirror alignment steps on the James Webb Space Telescope. During the “fine phase” phase, NASA had to check and test each optical parameter to make sure it met or exceeded expectations. No issues have been encountered, so the team is confident that the Webb’s optical performance will indeed meet or exceed the goals it was designed to achieve.

“We have fully aligned and focused the telescope on the star, and its performance exceeds specifications. We are excited about what this means for science,” said Ritva Keski-Kuha, Associate Element Manager for the Webb Optical Telescope at NASA Goddard. “Now we know we’ve built the right telescope.”

In addition, NASA found no critical issues and no measurable contaminants or blockages in Webb’s optical path. Thus, the telescope can collect light from distant objects and transmit it to various on-board instruments without any problems.

NASA captured image above of a star known as 2MASS J17554042+6551277 to evaluate the recently completed alignment phase. The target is the bright spot in the middle, but because Webb’s optics and the Near Infrared Camera Instrument (NIRCam) – Webb’s primary image sensor – are so sensitive, several other stars and galaxies are also visible in the background. The image used a red filter to optimize visual contrast, according to NASA.

Webb’s team will spend the next six weeks completing the remaining tuning steps before finalizing the science instrument, which could begin in early May or earlier. The first full-resolution images and scientific data are expected to be released this summer.

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