Work to align the James Webb Space Telescope’s enormous mirror has gone so well that the mission team believes its optical performance will be able to “meet or exceed the science goals the observatory was built to achieve.”
This is the best possible news for the most powerful space telescope ever built as it prepares to peer into deep space in a quest to discover more about the origins of the universe while also searching for distant planets that may support life.
The James Webb Space Telescope launched toward the end of December 2021 in a mission expected to last at least 10 years.
This week the Webb team reported the successful completion of a mirror alignment process known as “fine phasing,” which checks that the telescope’s optics are performing at, or above, expectations.
No critical issues were discovered, nor was any measurable contamination or blockages to Webb’s optical path, the team said, adding that its tests showed the observatory is able to successfully gather light from distant objects and deliver it to its instruments.
The excellent news pave the way for the telescope’s exploration of the universe, which is expected to get underway in about three months’ time from its orbit around one million miles from Earth.
NASA this week posted Webb telescope selfie (below), with all 18 segments on the 21-foot-wide mirror shining brightly as they collect light from a single star during alignment procedures.
Looking sharp, Webb!
A special lens inside the NIRCam instrument took a "selfie" of Webb's mirror segments, verifying their alignment with NIRCam. The segments are bright as they are all collecting light from the same star in unison. https://t.co/RPL4OItJNA #UnfoldTheUniverse pic.twitter.com/jSrupf7i4a
— NASA Webb Telescope (@NASAWebb) March 16, 2022
“More than 20 years ago, the Webb team set out to build the most powerful telescope that anyone has ever put in space and came up with an audacious optical design to meet demanding science goals,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “Today we can say that design is going to deliver.”
The ambitious $10 billion project is a joint effort involving NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency, with the new telescope set to complement the work of the hugely successful Hubble telescope that’s been exploring deep space for decades, sending back stunning images along the way.