The James Webb Telescope finished aligning 3 of its 4 primary instruments

While the crucial infrared instrument continues cryogenic cooldown, the telescope completes its sixth stage of alignment.
Loukia Papadopoulos
JWST in outer space.dima_zel/iStock

We have been following the James Webb Telescope very closely since it first took off into space last December. Every step of its unfurling while it heads into its final form has been reported on and for good reason.

The tool is regarded as one of the greatest scientific endeavors of the 21st Century, that almost didn't happen as the project was burdened by years of delays and billions of dollars of overspends. Many even called to cancel the project.

But low and behold, the mission succeeded despite everything and the telescope has now completed the process of aligning three out of its four instruments. This step is the sixth stage of aligning the tool's mirrors to its scientific instruments so that they can proceed to create the most accurate and focused images possible, according to a statement published by NASA on Friday.

The seventh and final stage is yet to come

After this next crucial step, the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) has to continue its cooldown. however, it should be noted that previous alignment efforts were so successful that no additional adjustments to the secondary mirror are necessary until the seventh and final stage. This stage will occur when the MIRI has fully cooled down.

“As a general rule, the commissioning process starts with coarse corrections and then moves into fine corrections. The early secondary mirror coarse corrections, however, were so successful that the fine corrections in the first iteration of Phase Six were unnecessary,” said Chanda Walker, Webb wavefront sensing and control scientist, Ball Aerospace. “This accomplishment was due to many years of planning and great teamwork among the wavefront sensing team.”

A process almost completed

Indeed, the telescope that almost never happened is now heading for its final form, one that will relay back much information about our universe possibly answering long-standing questions and unraveling mysteries about our cosmos. This will all occur once the MIRI fully cools to its cryogenic operating temperature.

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That step is set to take place in the weeks ahead and will ensure that final adjustments are made to the telescope's instruments and mirrors if needed. Once the tool is deemed capable and ready to deliver focused light to each of its instruments, a key decision meeting will occur to confirm the end of aligning the James Webb Space Telescope and that's when the true fun will begin. The researchers will effectively move from focusing on alignment efforts to commissioning each instrument for scientific operations. What might we discover? Only time will tell.