Incredibly sharp image of a nearby galaxy captured by NASA’s new $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope demonstrates a giant leap in space photography
- NASA shared side-by-side images captured by its Webb and Spitzer telescopes
- Both show the Large Magellanic Cloud, a galaxy that orbits the Milky Way.
- But Webb’s image captures the foreground stars in much more detail.
- It also reveals details such as interstellar gas clouds and background stars.
NASA has shared an incredibly sharp image of a nearby galaxy, captured by its new James Webb Space Telescope.
For comparison, he also shared an image of the same galaxy captured by his now-retired Spitzer Space Telescope, which launched in 2003 and was the first to provide high-resolution images of the near- and mid-infrared universe.
While the Spitzer image shows a blur around seven nearby stars located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy orbiting the Milky Way, the James Webb image captured the foreground stars in great detail.
It also reveals more subtle details, such as faint clouds of interstellar gas and hundreds of background stars and galaxies in what NASA calls “unprecedented detail.”
The two images illustrate the enormous advances in space photography that can be achieved with the new James Webb Telescope, now that its four science instruments are in “perfect alignment.”
Two images of the Large Magellanic Cloud captured by Spitzer (left) and Webb (right). Webb’s image shows not only foreground stars in great detail, but also more subtle details, such as faint clouds of interstellar gas and hundreds of background stars and galaxies.
Instruments on the James Webb Space Telescope
NIR camera (Near InfraRed Camera) an infrared camera from the edge of the visible to the near infrared
NIRSpec (Near InfraRed Spectrograph) will also perform spectroscopy in the same wavelength range.
MIRI (Mid Infrared Instrument) will measure the mid to long infrared wavelength range from 5 to 27 micrometers.
FGS/NIRISS (Fine Orientation Sensor, Near Infrared Imager, and Slitless Spectrograph), used to stabilize the observatory’s line of sight during science observations.
“I am delighted to report that the telescope alignment was completed with even better performance than we had anticipated,” said Michael McElwain, project scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, according to CBSNews.
“We basically achieved a perfect alignment of the telescope. There are no adjustments to the telescope’s optics that will substantially improve our scientific performance.’
The $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope launched in December 2021 and is expected to be fully operational by the end of June 2022.
It is set to succeed the Hubble Space Telescope as NASA’s flagship mission in astrophysics.
The telescope is made up of 18 hexagonal mirror segments, assembled into a large 21-foot-wide mirror.
During its decade or more in orbit, Webb will be used by teams of astronomers to study a wide variety of celestial phenomena, from exoplanets to black holes.
It is capable of looking further into the history of the universe than any previous space telescope, in part due to its position 930,000 miles from Earth.
James Webb has four key instruments on board: a near-infrared camera (NIRCam), a near-infrared spectrograph (NIRSpec), a mid-infrared instrument (MIRI), and a fine guidance sensor and a near-infrared imager and a slitless spectrograph (FGS/NIRISS).
The test image was captured by MIRI, Webb’s coldest instrument, at 7.7 microns.
It is compared to an earlier image of the same target taken with NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope’s Infrared Array Camera at 8.0 microns.
SLIDE TO REVEAL: The same view of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy orbiting the Milky Way, captured by the Spitzer and Webb Space Telescopes
The Webb Space Telescope is made up of 18 segments of hexagonal mirrors, joined together into a large 21-foot-wide mirror.
NASA said that Webb, with its significantly larger primary mirror and improved detectors, will allow scientists to see the infrared sky more clearly, leading to even more discoveries.
Scientists predict that Webb will be able to image distant objects up to 100 times fainter than the Hubble Space Telescope.
With its instruments lined up, the Webb telescope now awaits a final instrument calibration before officially beginning to study distant stars later this summer.
In July, the telescope will share its first batch of science images, targeting galaxies and objects that “highlight all of Webb’s science topics… from the early Universe, galaxies through time, the life cycle of stars and other worlds. ‘ said Klaus Pontoppidan, Webb project scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute.
THE JAMES WEBB TELESCOPE
The James Webb Telescope has been described as a ‘time machine’ that could help unlock the secrets of our universe.
The telescope will be used to look at the first galaxies that were born in the early universe more than 13.5 billion years ago and look at the sources of stars, exoplanets and even the moons and planets of our solar system.
The large telescope, which has already cost more than $7bn (£5bn), is seen as a successor to the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope.
The James Webb Telescope and most of its instruments have an operating temperature of about 40 Kelvin, about minus 387 Fahrenheit (minus 233 Celsius).
Officials say the cost may exceed the $8bn (£5.6bn) program cap set by Congress. The space agency has already invested $7bn (£5bn) in the telescope.
When it launches in 2021, it will be the largest and most powerful telescope in the world, capable of looking back 200 million years after the Big Bang.