James Webb Telescope: First Test Image, Better Expectations

The answers to our questionable existence might actually be within our reach. Thanks to the James Webb Telescope, the questions of the birth of our universe, the first light in the universe itself, and how rare life is, could be answered.

An Answer

On Dec. 25, 2021, The James Webb Telescope was launched from Kourou, French Guiana. Launched by an Ariane-5 rocket near the equator, the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope began its journey. 

On Mar. 16, 2022, a test image was released by NASA giving us a taste of what’s to come. The image was of one star one million miles away from Earth. The star, shining bright, even with a red tint on the image. The real beauty lies with the ancient galaxies surrounding the star, glimmering as only space dust can. 

Searching for Questions

Since the launch, the mission has been to fix the largest and most expensive space-based observatory to be fully operational. This includes fine-tuning the telescope’s 6.5m-wide primary mirror. The primary mirror is made up of 18 gold-plated segments. These are the source of the red tint on the latest test image. The telescope’s mirror is large enough that it had to be folded to fit within the telescope. These 18 segments are then tuned and adjusted by small motors. The design then allows the segments to act as one singular indivisible surface. 

It took 25 years of development for the Webb Telescope to come to fruition. In those 25 years, engineers invented 10 new technologies. The telescope has 18-gold plated mirrors and ultrasensitive infrared sensors. These infrared sensors give the gift of infrared sight to the telescope and allow the scope to view the universe through a fresh, new vision, never before seen.

In addition, the telescope has advanced temperature controllers that make sure the scope’s heat doesn’t surpass the stars it’s looking at. The primary mirror is three times larger and seven times more sensitive than the Hubble Space Telescope. The 32-year-old Hubble Telescope and the new Webb telescope will be working together for the Webb Telescope’s first few years. 

Booting Up

A series of calibration tests and boot-ups have been taking place to essentially turn the telescope on and get it functioning. These tests included sun shield deployment, telescope deployment, instrument turn-on, and telescope alignment. The James Webb telescope’s sun shield is made up of five layers of Kapton and the idea is that the sun shield will help keep the telescope cool enough to not overheat. The heat could possibly become hotter than the stars the scope is searching for.

With the test image that came out on Wednesday, NASA confirmed the success of telescope alignment. The process of reaching maximum capability is making great process. The telescope’s mission is four parts and one part is to see the first light in the universe. Another part is to view the assembly of galaxies in the early age of the universe and to view the birth of stars and protoplanetary systems. Discovering planets, especially those sustaining life, would then lead to discovering the origins of life as well.

Thanks to the collaborations of NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency, the answers to our universe have become closer to reach. That is shooting for the stars.