Several photos from the much-anticipated James Webb Space Telescope have been revealed by NASA's James Webb Space Telescope team on Friday (Feb. 11). Only a portion of the mosaic, which shows a star called HD 84406 and was taken over 25 hours beginning on Feb. 2, during the ongoing process to align the observatory's segmented mirror, shows the main photo, which doesn't even hint at the power Webb will bring to the universe once it's fully operational.
The entire Webb team is ecstatic at how well the first steps of taking images and aligning the telescope are proceeding," Marcia Rieke, principal investigator of the instrument that Webb relies on for the alignment procedure and an astronomer at the University of Arizona, said in a NASA statement.
JWST is now in the midst of a six-month commissioning procedure, with the launch scheduled for Christmas Day. From its launch configuration, the telescope spent the first month traveling roughly 1 million miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth.
Scientists will spend the majority of the remaining time waking up and calibrating the observatory's instruments, as well as making the necessary changes to the telescope's 18 golden mirror segments, which will allow for crisp, clear photographs of the deep universe.
According to NASA, the process is proceeding smoothly.
"This initial search covered an area about the size of the full moon because the segment dots could potentially have been that spread out on the sky," Marshall Perrin, the deputy telescope scientist for Webb and an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute, said in the same statement. "Taking so much data right on the first day required all of Webb's science operations and data processing systems here on Earth working smoothly with the observatory in space right from the start. And we found light from all 18 segments very near the center early in that search! This is a great starting point for mirror alignment."
As today's image of HD 84406 illustrates, the telescope still has a long way to go.
"The first images are going to be ugly," Jane Rigby, Webb operations project scientist, said during a news conference held on Jan. 8 as the telescope began the process of unstowing its mirrors. "It is going to be blurry. We'll [have] 18 of these little images all over the sky."
JWST scientists recently stated that they had selected to look at HD 84406 first, and the snapshot does clearly show numerous perspectives of the star. On Jan. 28, NASA officials announced on Twitter, "Star light, star bright … the first star Webb will see is HD 84406, a sun-like star about 260 light-years away."
Without a telescope, HD 84406 is not visible from Earth since it is in the constellation Ursa Major, or Big Bear. But because its brightness is constant and the observatory can always identify it, it was a suitable early target for Webb because launch or deployment delays wouldn't influence the plan.