NASA reveals deep space photo of James Webb Space Telescope test

NASA reveals deep space photo of James Webb Space Telescope test

NASA highlighted the James Webb Space Telescope with another impressive test photo just before the big premiere to showcase the first color images of the observatory.

The US space agency on Thursday revealed a new image from one of the infrared telescope’s massive instruments, the Fine Guidance Sensor. NASA casually shared the image on social media to demonstrate Webb’s strength and clarity: an almost unfathomable view of the universe in monochrome red.

The surprise teaser came just six days before the agency and its partners, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency, plan to roll out the first batch of live-action full-color images on July 12. Despite NASA administrator Bill Nelson’s announcement that the cache will include the deepest image of the universe ever taken, this image – a simple technical test of Webb’s fine guidance sensor – already beats the current record for the farthest infrared view in the cosmos, scientists have said.


The Webb Telescope just took the deepest picture of the universe ever seen

To some people, the new snapshot (at the top of this story) might not look like anything too impressive – at best, maybe sesame seeds on a hamburger bun or squashed midges on a windshield of car. But what they’re looking at is the abyss: behind a handful of bright stars with giant spikes of light are galaxies brimming with solar systems.

It’s true: each of these little spots can contain hundreds of billions of stars and planets. Within this unique setting are thousands of faint galaxies, according to the telescope team, many of which are in the distant, early universe. In astronomy, looking further means observing the past because light and other forms of radiation take longer to reach us.

Do you still feel small?

As Jane Rigby, a project scientist at NASA, once said during the observatory’s first calibration tests: “There’s no way Webb can look…at any point in the world. sky and not go incredibly deep.”

It is true in this case. The main job of the fine guidance sensor, built by Canada, is to point and latch on to cosmic targets. Taking pictures is just a bonus. When the photo was taken, engineers were testing the telescope’s ability “to roll to one side like an airplane in flight, lock onto a star, and roll,” NASA explained in a blog post. This could trigger a visual for some recent Top Gun: Maverick moviegoers.

The image is the result of 72 exposures over 32 hours, superimposed on each other. The jagged edges of the photo are due to overlapping frames, according to the post.

“There’s no way Webb could look…at any point in the sky and not go incredibly deep.”

Webb, launched into space on Christmas morning six months ago, will observe some of the oldest and faintest lights in the universe. Astronomers predict Webb’s science will spark a golden age in our understanding of the universe.

The powerful $10 billion infrared telescope will study a period less than 300 million years after the Big Bang, when many of the first stars and galaxies were born. Scientists will also use it to peer into the atmospheres of other worlds. Discoveries of water and methane, for example – some of life’s main ingredients – could be signs of potentially life-sustaining environments.

Testing the James Webb Space Telescope

The powerful $10 billion James Webb Infrared Space Telescope will survey a period less than 300 million years after the Big Bang, when many of the first stars and galaxies were born.
Credit: NASA

NASA officials stressed Thursday that the test shot is still “rough around the edges” and won’t hold a candle to the quality of images coming July 12. This is not in color and would not hold up to the standard needed for scientific analysis, they said.

Engineers toned the data in a red filter, just like they did with previous test images, to show contrast. The sharp six-pointed spikes protruding from the stars are the result of Webb’s hexagonal mirror segments. This affects how light travels, causing diffraction.

The stars also appear to have holes drilled through their centers, a feature that will not be present in future photos, according to the Webb team. Engineers said the holes were there because the exposures lacked “dithering”.

“Dithering is when the telescope repositions itself slightly between each exposure,” according to NASA. “The centers of bright stars appear black because they saturate Webb’s detectors, and the telescope’s pointing did not change across exposures to capture the center from different pixels in the camera detectors.”

The upcoming images and science data will be released during an event broadcast beginning at 10:30 a.m. ET on July 12 from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. The public can watch the coverage live on NASA TV.

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