Why the James Webb Space Telescope will 'profoundly change' your universe

It's time to zoom in with Webb's perfectly aligned instruments.
Brad Bergan
An artist's depiction of Webb (left), and alignment images from the observatory (right).1, 2

Last week, NASA released even more images from the James Webb Space Telescope, as it continues to test its instruments before science missions begin. 

And these incredible, crisp-clean images come on the heels of Webb completing its full alignment. 

But now, NASA's James Webb Telescope is moving forward with its next and last series of preparations, called science instrument commissioning, according to a NASA blog post. And the test images that come from this — like the collection from last week, are highly notable.

The James Webb Space Telescope's test images will 'profoundly change' your universe

Aligning the telescope with all of Webb's instruments displays Webb's entire field of view, and it continues to impress. "These remarkable test images from a successfully aligned telescope demonstrate what people across countries and continents can achieve when there is a bold scientific vision to explore the universe," said Webb's Optical Telescope Element Manager Lee Feinberg of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, in the NASA blog post.

The telescope's optical performance is constantly exceeding the expectations of its engineering team, with mirrors now feeding cosmic light into a tightly focused beam of light into each of the instruments. "The image quality delivered to all instruments is 'diffraction limited,' meaning that the fineness of detail that can be seen is as good as physically possible given the size of the telescope," read the post.

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And in the coming weeks and months, the primary mirror segments will continue periodic adjustments. "With the completion of telescope alignment and half a lifetime’s worth of effort, my role on the James Webb Space Telescope mission has come to an end," said Webb's Wavefront Sensing and Controls Scientist Scott Acton of Ball Aerospace, in the post.

"These images have profoundly changed the way I see the universe," continued Acton. "We are surrounded by a symphony of creation; there are galaxies everywhere! It is my hope that everyone in the world can see them." 

Webb Sharpness Check
Behold Webb's test images from each of its four primary instruments. Source: NASA / STScI

Confirming the James Webb Telescope's readiness for science missions

But now the serious goal of commissioning every scientific instrument aboard the James Webb Space Telescope can begin in earnest. Every instrument on the observatory involves a highly advanced pair of detectors that feature unique lenses, filters, masks, and equipment tailor-made to help the instrument hone in on its mission objectives.

Their readiness for real-world science missions will be confirmed by combining and reconfiguring them for all primary assignments. And with telescope alignment completed, specialized professionals have entered the Mission Operations Center in Baltimore's Space Telescope Science Institute.

NASA will test Webb's 'thermal stability'

Among the remaining tasks in calibrating the entire telescope is an intinerary of various regions of the sky, at which Webb will be directed. These areas of the sky will modify the amount of solar radiation slamming into the James Webb Telescope, and help scientists on the ground finalize the thermal stability of the observatory while it's switching targets.

Corrections will be uploaded to the James Webb Space Telescope when mirror alignment falls out of sync, but with only months left before NASA's observatory begins its science mission, all eyes are to the sky as progressively more incredible images emerge from these critical tests.

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