Cape Canaveral, Florida (AFP) – NASA’s new space telescope has captured its first starlight and even snapped a selfie of its giant golden mirror.
All 18 parts of the primary mirror on the James Webb Space Telescope are working properly after a month and a half into the mission, officials said Friday.
The telescope’s first target was a bright star 258 light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major.
“That was a really cool moment,” said Marshall Perrin of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.
Over the next few months, the hexagonal mirror parts – each about the size of a coffee table – will be aligned and focused as one piece, allowing scientific observations to begin by the end of June.
The $10 billion Infrared Observatory – the successor to the old Hubble Space Telescope – will search for light from the first stars and galaxies that formed in the universe nearly 14 billion years ago. It will also examine the atmospheres of alien worlds for any possible signs of life.
NASA only discovered the crippling defect in the Hubble mirror after its 1990 launch. It was more than three years before astronauts who walked in space could correct the telescope’s blurry vision.
Feinberg said that while everything looks good so far with Webb, engineers should be able to rule out any major mirror defects by next month.
The 21-foot (6.5 m) gold-plated Webb Mirror is the largest ever launched into space. An infrared camera on the telescope captured an image of the mirror while one of the clips was staring at the target star.
The reaction was pretty much ‘holy cow,’ said Feinberg. “.
NASA released a selfie with a mosaic of starlight from every part of the mirror. 18 points of starlight resemble bright fireflies fluttering in the black night sky.
After 20 years of the project, “it’s been incredibly satisfying” to see everything working so well so far, said Marcia Rickey of the University of Arizona, lead scientist for the infrared camera.
Webb blasted off from South America in December and reached its exact location 1 million miles (1.6 million km) away last month.
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