by Meghan Bartels
March 16, 2022
Meghan is a senior writer at Space.com and has more than
five years' experience as a science journalist based
New York City.
joined Space.com in July 2018, with previous writing
published in outlets including Newsweek and Audubon.
Meghan earned an MA in science journalism from New York
University and a BA in classics from Georgetown
University, and in her free time she enjoys reading and
Follow her on Twitter at @meghanbartels.
A new image taken by the
James Webb Space Telescope
its alignment process
shows galaxies and
stars in the background.
view of the universe
The next great observatory is sharpening its vision and well on the
way to cracking mysteries of the universe.
James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) launched in December, arrived at its
station nearly 1 million miles (1.5 million kilometers) away from
Earth in January, and has been hard at work preparing to conduct
science the $10 billion mission was designed for.
The spacecraft notched
another key milestone in its preparations when it completed "fine
phasing" on March 11, the agency announced on Wednesday (March 16).
The telescope has also met every optical parameter engineers needed
and is cleanly delivering light to its instruments.
The achievement leaves
NASA fully confident that the observatory will meet its science
"We have fully
aligned and focused the telescope on a star, and the performance
is beating specifications.
We are excited about
what this means for science," Ritva Keski-Kuha, deputy
optical telescope element manager for Webb at NASA's Goddard
Space Flight Center in Maryland, said in a NASA
"We now know we have
built the right telescope."
The new image
centers on a
2MASS J17554042+6551277, according to the statement.
That represents a
new target for the observatory:
Previous steps of the commissioning
process centered on
HD 84406, a star in the constellation Ursa Major that is located
about 241 light-years from Earth.
Also visible in the
background are other stars and galaxies that the agency did not
power comes in part from the telescope's massive mirror, which
stretches 21 feet across (6.5 meters).
But a mirror of that size
can't be launched as-is, so the observatory's designers split the
golden surface into 18 individually adjustable hexagonal segments.
engineers on the mission have been fine-tuning the alignment of
those segments to bring the universe into focus for the massive
That process isn't
yet complete, NASA emphasized, but the hardest, most
anxiety-inducing steps are now behind the team.
"More than 20
years ago, the Webb team set out to build the most powerful
telescope that anyone has ever put in space and came up with an
audacious optical design to meet demanding science goals,"
Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science
Mission Directorate, said in the statement.
"Today we can
say that design is going to deliver."
The agency also
released a "selfie" image using a lens tailored to photograph the
primary mirror to assist engineers during alignment.
A "selfie" taken by
the James Webb Space Telescope's
during the alignment process.
(Image credit: NASA/STScI)
alignment is complete - perhaps by early May, NASA said - the team's
other major preparatory step is to calibrate the instruments aboard
That work is expected to be complete by this
summer, when JWST will be able to begin its science observations.
science agenda includes tackling topics like,
earliest days of the universe
assessing the habitability of
identifying the impact that mysterious
has on the cosmos...