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The first image of the fully focused James Webb

The James Webb Space Telescope, the most powerful ever built, is now fully aligned. The observatory, launched last December, is capable of capturing sharp, well-focused images with its four onboard science instruments. In two months, the time needed for the final preparations, he will be ready to do science.

The telescope’s alignment across all of Webb’s instruments can be seen in a series of images that capture the full field of view of the observatory. The optical performance of the telescope, they say from NASA, is still better than the most optimistic predictions of the engineering team.

For this test, Webb targeted part of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, which provides a dense field of hundreds of miles of stars across all of the observatory’s sensors.

Webb mirrors are directing fully focused light collected from space down into each instrument, and each instrument is successfully capturing images with the light delivered to them. The quality of the image delivered to all instruments is “diffraction limited”, meaning that the fineness of detail that can be seen is “as good as is physically possible given the size of the telescope”. From this point on, the only changes to the mirrors will be very small periodic adjustments to the primary mirror segments.

‚ÄúThese images have profoundly changed my way of seeing the universe. We are surrounded by a symphony of creation; there are galaxies everywhere! I hope everyone in the world can see them,” said James Webb scientist Scott Acton.

The team will now turn its attention to commissioning the science instruments. Each instrument is a highly sophisticated set of detectors equipped with unique lenses, masks, filters, and equipment that help it perform the science it was designed to do. The specialized features of these instruments will be configured and operated in various combinations to fully confirm their readiness for science.

Although the alignment of the telescope is complete, some calibration activities remain: as part of the commissioning of the science instrument, the telescope will be commanded to point to different areas of the sky where the total amount of solar radiation will vary, to confirm thermal stability when changing targets. In addition, ongoing maintenance observations every other day will monitor the alignment of the mirrors and, when necessary, use corrections to keep the mirrors on their aligned lines.

Webb, a program of NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency, is built to solve mysteries in our solar system, observe distant worlds around other stars, and investigate the mysterious structures of our universe, their origins, and our place in it.

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