We are now just five days away from the public release of the first scientific images from the James Webb Space Telescope, and expectations are growing exponentially. After more than two decades, and $10 billion, it’s time for Webb to pay off.
Early indications are that it will.
On Wednesday evening, NASA released a “test” image from the telescope indicating that the upcoming scientific images and data will be amazing. The version of the test image, which NASA casually says is “among the deepest images of the universe ever taken,” looks like a flexible image because it’s too good for a simple geometric image.
The space agency collected the image in late May during a week-long stability test aimed at demonstrating the capabilities of the telescope’s precision-guidance sensor. This tool helps Webb find and pin astronomical targets on it, and it was built by the Canadian Space Agency.
“The resulting engineering test image has some approximate qualities”, NASA said In a press release. It was not optimized to be a scientific observation; instead, the data was taken to test how well the telescope can stay locked onto the target, but rather indicates the power of the telescope. It bears some hallmarks of Webb views produced during post-launch preparations. Bright stars emerge with Six long, sharply defined diffraction spines – an effect caused by the hexagonal segments of the Webb mirror. After stars, they fill almost entire background galaxies.”
Most of the objects in this image are not stars, but are in fact distant galaxies. These are the types of galaxies that astronomers are keen to study, as they will reveal information about the early universe. Since it was only intended for engineering testing, this image does not use color filters that allow astronomers to assess the age of the galaxies in the image, but rather shows detailed structure in distant galaxies.
Incidentally, the stability test was a success, and Webb recently collected the data with all his science instruments up and running. We’ll see the fruits of this work in just five days, starting at 10:30 a.m. ET (14:30 UTC).
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