Incredibly sharp image of a nearby galaxy captured by NASA’s new $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope demonstrates a huge leap forward 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 the Webb image captures the foreground stars in much sharper detail.
- It also reveals details such as clouds of interstellar gas 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 was launched in 2003 and was the first to provide high-resolution images of the nearby universe and middle infrared.
While Spitzer’s image shows a blur of about seven nearby stars located in the Large Magellanic Cloud – a satellite galaxy that orbits the Milky Way – James Webb’s image captured the foreground stars with sharp details.
It also reveals more subtle details such as wispy clouds of interstellar gas and hundreds of background stars and galaxies in what NASA calls “unprecedented detail.”
The two images illustrate the huge advances in space photography thanks to 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). The Webb image shows not only the foreground stars in sharp detail, but also more subtle details such as wispy clouds of interstellar gas and hundreds of background stars and galaxies.
Instruments of the James Webb Space Telescope
NIR Cam (Near InfraRed Camera) an infrared imager from the edge of visible through near infrared
NIR spec (Near InfraRed Spectrograph) will also perform spectroscopy on the same wavelength range.
MIRI (Mid-InfraRed Instrument) will measure the mid-to-long infrared wavelength range of 5 to 27 micrometers.
FGS/NIRISS (Fine Guidance Sensor and Near Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph), is used to stabilize the line of sight of the observatory during scientific observations.
“I am delighted to report that the telescope alignment has been completed with even better performance than we anticipated,” said James Webb Space Telescope project scientist Michael McElwain at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, according to CBS News.
“We have almost achieved perfect alignment of the telescope. There are no adjustments to the telescope optics that would bring material improvements to our science 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 intended to succeed the Hubble Space Telescope as NASA’s flagship astrophysics mission.
The telescope is made up of 18 hexagonal mirror segments, assembled into a large mirror 21 feet wide.
During its decade or more in orbit, Webb would be used by teams of astronomers to study a wide variety of celestial phenomena, from exoplanets to black holes.
It is able to look further into the history of the universe than any space telescope before it, thanks in part to its position 930,000 miles from Earth.
James Webb has four key instruments on board – a Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam), Near Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec), Mid Infrared Instrument (MIRI) and Fine Guidance Sensor and Near Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (FGS) /NIRISS).
The test image was captured by MIRI, which is Webb’s coldest instrument, at 7.7 microns.
It is compared to a past image of the same target taken with NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope infrared camera at 8.0 microns.
SLIDE TO REVEAL: The same view of the Large Magellanic Cloud – a satellite galaxy that orbits the Milky Way – captured by the Spitzer and Webb Space Telescopes
The Webb Space Telescope is made up of 18 hexagonal mirror segments, assembled into a large 21-foot-wide mirror.
NASA said Webb, with its significantly larger primary mirror and improved detectors, will allow scientists to see the infrared sky with improved clarity, enabling even more discoveries.
Scientists predict Webb will be able to image distant objects up to 100 times too faint for the Hubble Space Telescope to see.
With its instruments lined up, the Webb Telescope is now awaiting final instrument calibration before officially starting to study distant stars later this summer.
In July, the telescope will share its first suite of science images, targeting galaxies and objects that “highlight all Webb science themes…from the beginning of the Universe, to galaxies over time, to the life cycle 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 back at the first galaxies born in the early universe more than 13.5 billion years ago, and observe the sources of stars, exoplanets and even moons and planets in our solar system.
The vast telescope, which has already cost more than $7bn (£5bn), is seen as the successor to the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope
The James Webb Telescope and most of its instruments have an operating temperature of around 40 Kelvin – about minus 387 Fahrenheit (minus 233 Celsius).
Officials say the cost could exceed the $8bn (£5.6bn) program cap set by Congress. The space agency has already poured $7bn (£5bn) into the telescope.
When launched in 2021, it will be the world’s largest and most powerful telescope, capable of looking back 200 million years after the Big Bang.