The Webb Space Telescope, operated by NASA, is now fully focused and ready for instrument commissioning.

The James Webb Space Telescope’s alignment is now complete. The observatory’s four-strong onboard science instruments have been certified to be capable of capturing sharp, well-focused photos after a thorough evaluation. Following the completion of the seventh and last stage of telescope alignment, the team attended a series of important decision meetings and unanimously agreed that Webb is now ready to proceed to the next and final step of preparations, known as science instrument commissioning. Before scientific operations begin in the summer, this process will take around two months.

The alignment of the telescope across all of Webb’s instruments can be seen in a series of images that captures the observatory‘s full field of view.

“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 Center.

The optical performance of the telescope continues to be better than the engineering team’s most optimistic predictions. Webb’s mirrors are now directing fully focused light collected from space down into each instrument, and each instrument is successfully capturing images with the light being delivered to them. The image quality delivered to all instruments is “diffraction-limited,” meaning that the fineness of detail that can be seen is as good as physically possible given the size of the telescope. From this point forward the only changes to the mirrors will be very small, periodic adjustments to the primary mirror segments.

“With the completion of telescope alignment and half a lifetime’s worth of effort, my role on the James Webb Space Telescope mission has come to an end,” said Scott Acton, Webb wavefront sensing and controls scientist, Ball Aerospace. “These images have profoundly changed the way I see the universe. We are surrounded by a symphony of creation; there are galaxies everywhere. It is my hope that everyone in the world can see them.”

The Webb team will now focus on commissioning scientific instruments. Each instrument is a very sophisticated set of detectors with bespoke lenses, masks, filters, and other equipment that aids in the performance of the research it was created to accomplish. During the instrument commissioning phase, the particular characteristics of these instruments will be set and operated in various combinations to completely ensure their suitability for science. With the formal completion of telescope alignment, important people engaged in the commissioning of each instrument have arrived at the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Mission Operations Center in Baltimore, and some telescope alignment personnel have completed their tasks.

Though telescope alignment is complete, some telescope calibration activities remain: As part of scientific instrument commissioning, the telescope will be commanded to point to different areas in the sky where the total amount of solar radiation hitting the observatory will vary to confirm thermal stability when changing targets. Furthermore, ongoing maintenance observations every two days will monitor the mirror alignment, and when needed, apply corrections to keep the mirrors in their aligned locations.

Source: NASA Goddard

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