The Webb Space Telescope is one step closer to being fully operational: It is now fully aligned and calibrating its suite of four instruments to collect data on our universe. NASA announced the new milestone in a blog post yesterday.
Webb, a collaboration between NASA, the Canadian Space Agency, and the European Space Agency, is humanity’s newest attempt at unlocking the secrets of the cosmos. The aim of the telescope is to collect data on potentially habitable exoplanets, as well as to observe distant stars and fledgling galaxies in infrared using its golden honeycomb array. Now, its seventh and final stage of alignment is officially complete after its launch back in December 2021, and it has some amazing photos from each of its four instruments to prove it.
“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 Lee Feinberg, Webb optical telescope element manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre, in the NASA blog post.
Now that the mirrors are fully aligned, the telescope is successfully supplying its four instruments with incoming light from the far reaches of the universe, capturing images of stars in sharp focus. The instruments are the NIRCam, a near-infrared camera for imaging young stars and forming galaxies; the NIRSpec, a powerful spectrograph to study light from distant sources; MIRI, a camera and spectrograph that operate in the mid-infrared wavelengths; and FGI/NIRISS, which allows the telescope to aim with precision and study exoplanets.
Webb is now moving into the process of instrument commissioning, where these incredibly sensitive instruments will be tested across different configurations to ensure they are ready for full-scale operation. As a part of this process, the telescope will point at different patches of the sky to ensure that it’s thermally stable. Instrument commissioning should take around two months, and the official start of the science mission should finally begin this summer.