NASA’s new space telescope sees first starlight and takes a selfie
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida.
NASA’s new space telescope captured its first starlight and even took a selfie of its giant gold mirror.
All 18 segments of the James Webb Space Telescope’s main mirror appear to be functioning properly 1.5 months into the mission, officials said Friday.
The telescope’s first target was a bright star 258 light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major.
“It was just a real jaw-dropping moment,” said Marshall Perrin of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.
Over the next few months, the hexagonal mirror segments – each the size of a coffee table – will be aligned and focused as one, allowing scientific observations to begin by the end of June.
The $10 billion infrared observatory – believed to be the successor to the aging Hubble Space Telescope – will seek light from the first stars and galaxies that formed in the universe nearly 14 billion years ago. It will also examine the atmospheres of extraterrestrial worlds for any possible signs of life.
NASA only detected the crippling flaw in Hubble’s mirror after it was launched in 1990; More than three years passed before spacewalking astronauts were able to correct blurry telescope vision.
Although everything is going well so far with Webb, engineers should be able to rule out any major flaws in the mirror by next month, Feinberg said.
Webb’s 21-foot (6.5-meter) gold-plated mirror is the largest ever launched into space. An infrared camera on the telescope took an image of the mirror as a segment looked at the targeted star.
“The reaction was pretty much ‘Holy Cow!’,” Feinberg said.
NASA released the selfie, along with a mosaic of starlight from each of the mirror segments. The 18 points of starlight look like glowing fireflies fluttering against a black night sky.
After 20 years with the project, “it’s just incredibly satisfying” to see everything working so well so far, said Marcia Rieke of the University of Arizona, lead scientist for the infrared camera.
Webb took off from South America in December and reached his designated perch 1.6 million miles away last month.
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