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NASA unveils first images of the James Webb Space Telescope

NASA unveils first images of the James Webb Space Telescope

NASA today unveiled a mosaic of the first images captured by the revolutionary James Webb Space Telescope, or JWST. The image represents the early stages of the telescope's 18 main mirror segments aligning precisely before JWST reaches its full potential.

The image is blurry, but it's actually a good starting point in the long process of adjusting JWST's mirrors to take ultra-sharp pictures of the distant universe. The 18 points of visible light in the image all represent a single isolated star, known as HD 84406, seen by a separate primary mirror segment. Light collected from each primary mirror segment was reflected back into Webb's secondary mirror, then measured using the Near Infrared Camera, or NIRCam, one of the telescope's principal imaging instruments. This sensor will be used during the telescope's alignment process to determine and correct any optical errors.

According to NASA, the process of gathering the light used to generate the image mosaic took about 25 hours. HD 84406's 18 images were collected from more than 1,500 images as Webb was pointed to various positions around the star's expected location. The mirrors will begin to align correctly over the coming months after various adjustments are made by the telescope. Eventually, those 18 stars will become one as all the mirror segments align to form a seamless surface.

After considerable delays, JWST finally launched into space on Christmas Day, ending the decades-long waiting game. But this trend did not stop here. Just a few days later, the telescope began to enter its final form through a complex sequence lasting two weeks. On January 4, JWST successfully deployed its massive sunshield, which is needed to keep its equipment cool. With the successful raising of its primary mirror on 8 January, all major deployments were completed. JWST reached its final orbit in space on 24 January.

NASA expects the first set of clear images for scientific observation to arrive in the summer. But for now, the JWST team is excited by the results of the telescope's first imaging and alignment steps, which bring it one step closer to taking amazing pictures.

"Launching Webb into space was certainly an exciting event, but for scientists and optical engineers, it is a peak moment, when light from a star is successfully making its way through the system to a detector," says JWST. Project scientist Michael McElwen said in a blog post.

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