The James Webb Space Telescope is fully aligned. After a full review, NASA has announced that the JWST team has completed the seventh and final stage of telescope alignment. Following completion, the team held a series of key decision meetings and unanimously agreed that Webb’s ready to enter the final series of preparations, science instrument commissioning, ahead of full scientific operations.
The image below shows the alignment of the JWST across all of Webb’s instruments, including NIRSPEC, NIRCAM, MIRI, the Fine Guidance Sensor and NIRISS. The images show a marked change from when Webb detected its first photons in February. At that time, only the onboard NIRCAM, one of four cameras on Webb, was switched on and its image was unfocused. The team has made significant strides in just over two months.
Webb’s optics are not only fully aligned, but they’re also performing better than the team’s most optimistic expectations. NASA writes, ‘Webb’s mirrors are now directing fully focused light collected from space down into each instrument, and each instrument is successfully capturing images with the light being delivered to them. The image quality delivered to all instruments is ‘diffraction-limited,’ meaning that the fineness of detail that can be seen is as good as physically possible given the size of the telescope. From this point forward the only changes to the mirrors will be very small, periodic adjustments to the primary mirror segments.’
The beginning of the final step of Webb’s preparations means that some members of the team are now done working on the project altogether, which is likely a bittersweet moment. Webb has taken many years of year from countless dedicated individuals. Scott Acton, Webb wavefront sensing and controls scientist at Ball Aerospace said, ‘With the completion of telescope alignment and half a lifetime’s worth of effort, my role on the James Webb Space Telescope mission has come to an end. These images have profoundly changed the way I see the universe. We are surrounded by a symphony of creation; there are galaxies everywhere! It is my hope that everyone in the world can see them.
Now that Webb is fully aligned, it’s time for the team to configure and test Webb’s scientific instruments. Each instrument is a ‘highly sophisticated set of detectors equipped with unique lenses, masks, filters, and customized equipment that helps it perform the science it was designed to achieve.’ Key personnel involved with each of Webb’s scientific instruments have convened at the Missions Operations Center at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, MD.