James Webb’s stunning new picture before the start of the science mission

3 [VIDÉO] You may also like this partner content (after advertising)

On May 9, NASA called a media conference to discuss progress in preparing the James Webb Space Telescope for science activities. The program manager has revealed that the telescope will deliver its first images in mid-July. These shots, which should be spectacular, are eagerly awaited by all researchers In the meantime, some pictures from the shots captured during the Mirror Alignment episode have been released.

No introduction to the James Webb Space Telescope is required Launched last December, the 10 10 billion device is the largest and most powerful astronomical observatory ever launched into space. The purpose is to collect the light emitted by the first stars and galaxies about 14 billion years ago when looking at possible signs of life. For now, scientists are keeping secret the identity of the web’s first official target. Located 1.6 million kilometers from Earth, the Web is thought to be the successor to the ancient Hubble Space Telescope, although its observations will be largely of a different nature.

Thus, the James Webb Telescope has just completed its mirror alignment phase. After a thorough review, it has been confirmed that the observatory is now capable of taking sharp and well-focused images, each with four powerful science instruments. The team held a series of key decision meetings and unanimously agreed that Webb was ready to move forward in preparation for its next and final round, called “Science Instrument Commissioning”. The process will take about two months before science activities begin this summer.

Unexpected performance

The telescope’s optical performance is going to be better than the engineering team’s most optimistic predictions. Web mirrors are now fully focused light, collected from space, pointing into each instrument, and each instrument successfully captures images with the light given to them. The image quality provided on all instruments is “Diffraction Limited”, which means that the fineness of the visible detail is physically as good as possible according to the size of the telescope. From now on, as NASA engineers pointed out during the May 9 teleconference, the only changes in the mirror would be very small, with periodic adjustments to the primary mirror parts.

To test the alignment of mirrors and various instruments, the scientists pointed the web telescope at the part of the large Magellanic cloud, a small satellite galaxy in the Milky Way, providing a dense field of several thousand stars through all the sensors. Observations are, in fact, such precise points of the sky, already observed by other telescopes (Hubble or Spitzer), valuable in the astrometric calibration stage, project engineers explained May 9.

The star-engineered images of parts of the larger Magellanic Cloud focus perfectly on the scene of each instrument. NASA

The new web image, sent to researchers after aligning 18 mirrors, is surprisingly much more detailed than the previous ones, especially since it uses the coldest instrument, the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI). The new MIRI image thus reveals the chemistry of interstellar gases in unprecedented detail, including the emission of carbon and hydrogen molecules. The latter, known as “polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons”, is considered the building block of life. As the web prepares to begin scientific observations, such studies with MIRI will help astronomers provide new information about the stars and the birth of the protoplanetary system.

Instrument commissioning

The team will now take about two months to prepare and test science instruments – the so-called “instrument commissioning” – before the first science images and web spectra are released this summer.

Each instrument is a highly sophisticated set of detectors equipped with unique lenses, masks, filters and equipment. The special features of these instruments will be configured and operated in different combinations during the instrument commissioning phase to ensure their readiness for future missions.

The various devices in the group called ISIM (Integrated Science Instrument Module) are: (1) a near-infrared camera, or NIRCam – supplied by the University of Arizona; (2) a near infrared spectrograph, or NIRSpec – provided by ESA, with material provided by NASA / GSFC; (3) Mid-Infrared Instrument, or MIRI – European Consortium and European Space Agency (ESA), as well as NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL); And (4) a Fine Guidance Sensor / Near Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph, or FGS / NIRISS – provided by the Canadian Space Agency.

The James Webb Space Telescope, designed by ISIM, shows the location of the instrument. NASA

As part of launching the science instrument, researchers will point the telescope at different areas of the sky, where the total amount of solar radiation hitting the observatory will vary to ensure thermal stability while changing targets. In addition, continuous maintenance monitoring, every two days, will be used to monitor the alignment of the mirrors and, if necessary, corrections will be applied to keep the mirrors in their aligned position.

Finally, mission engineers will test the web’s ability to track solar system objects such as planets, satellites, rings, asteroids and comets. Scientists will make sure that the web can do it right, the observatory is particularly sensitive to light.

Although officials have not yet released information that Commissioning Target Web will focus first on its test work, they insist that the observatory remains on schedule for its expected scientific publication this summer.

Source: NASA

Leave a Comment