James Webb Space Telescope captures its first images of a star

Deepak Gupta February 11, 2022
Updated 2022/02/11 at 5:29 PM

The James Webb Space Telescope has finally captured its first image of a star – or rather images. NASA has shared a mosaic of photos (shown above) of a star taken using the 18 segments of the primary mirror. It looks like a seemingly random collection of blurry dots, but that’s exactly what the mission team expected. The images will help scientists complete the long process of aligning the mirror using the telescope’s infrared camera, or NIRCam. The first phase is almost complete as of this writing.

The visuals came from a 25-hour effort that pointed the James Webb Space Telescope at 156 different positions and produced 1,560 images with NIRCam’s sensors. The team created the mosaic using the signature of each segment of the mirror in a single frame. Visual artifacts come from using the infrared camera at temperatures well above the frigid conditions that the telescope will need for scientific observation. And what you see here is not the entirety of the mosaic – the full resolution snapshot is over two gigapixels.

NASA

NASA also provided a rare real-world glimpse of the JWST in action. The agency provided a “selfie” of the primary (middle) mirror created by a NIRCam pupil imaging lens. This is also blurry but gives valuable insight into the fully deployed mirror and helps explain the importance of alignment. Notice how only one segment is illuminated by a star? It is the only one aligned with this celestial body – it will take a while for all segments to be operating together.

The researchers expect the first scientifically useful images from the JWST in the summer. It’s reasonable to assume these images will be considerably more exciting, especially as they start to provide glimpses into the early universe. Still, what you see here demonstrates the telescope’s health and suggests there won’t be too many problems in the coming months.

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