The James Webb Space Telescope has sent its first accurate images since arriving at its destination 1.5 million kilometers from Earth in late January. This means that the mirrors on board the telescope have lined up and entered a new phase.
The telescope was directed toward the Large Magellanic Cloud, one of the closest galaxies, for testing. Thousands of stars can be individually distinguished in the images. The telescope has sent images before, but they aren’t quite as sharp yet.
Tests have shown that all four instruments that analyze the light collected in the telescope are now able to produce sharp images. One such tool is the partly Dutch MIRI machine. Ewen van Dyschewek, professor of astronomy at Leiden University, says: Radio NOS 1 News†
Van Dishoeck helped develop the tool and said its cooling was “exciting”. “Our machine had to be cooler than the other three machines on board. Because if the MIRI machine wasn’t cold, we would only have seen noise in the pictures.”
In the photographs, the stars can therefore be distinguished individually for the first time. Van Dishoeck: “But our MIRI instrument also sees more. It also sees dust from interstellar clouds. You can see that very well in the first picture. When I saw it, my heart started beating a little faster.”
James Webb is the largest and most powerful space telescope ever built. The telescope is able to collect light from stars and galaxies, allowing a look back into the past 13 billion years. Before the first scientific results are expected this summer, a number of tests still need to be carried out.
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