The long-awaited first scientific images from the world’s leading space observatory are not expected until this summer. However, recent test images captured by the telescope during its final start-up phase provide a taste of what is to come.
“These are the sharpest infrared images ever taken by a space telescope,” Michael McElwain, a scientist at the Webb Observatory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, told a news conference Monday.
But the most striking result came from comparing images taken from the same target by Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument with the now-retired Spitzer Space Telescope’s infrared camera.
Webb’s giant mirror and sensitive detectors can capture even more detail – and allow more discoveries – than Spitzer could.
Scientists studying the two images of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small neighboring galaxy of the larger galaxy, observed that Webb’s image reveals unprecedented details of interstellar gas between stars.
“You can estimate that the images from Webb will be better because we have 18 sections, each of which is larger than the individual section, so to speak, that formed the mirror of the Spitzer Telescope,” said Marcia Rieke, lead researcher for Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera and regent professor of astronomy at the University of Arizona during a press conference.
But it ‘s not just when you really see the kind of image it offers, you can not really internalize and say’ Wow, just think about what we’re going to learn. ‘ Spitzer taught us a lot. “This is like a whole new world.”
Near the starting line
Webb is now in the final stages of preparation before he is ready to start conducting scientific observations.
“I would call this homestretch,” McElwain said. “We have about 1,000 activities scheduled to start and there are only about 200 activities left to complete.”
Webb instruments go through final testing and calibration as the ground-based telescope team evaluates each performance to ensure they are ready to collect data correctly.
Each organ has about four or five scientific ways each that must meet specific criteria. One of the special features of the Webb includes moving object tracking, which is especially useful for scientists who want to study objects in the icy parts of our solar system as they orbit the sun.
“Once this phase is complete, we will be ready to release the scientific instruments into the universe,” McElwain said.
The first images
The first images of the Webb universe, called early release observations, or EROs, are expected in mid-July, said Klaus Pontoppidan, a Webb scientist at the Baltimore Space Telescope Science Institute, during the interview. A more precise date will be announced later, he said.
These first “spectacular color images” will show that Webb is fully functional and a celebratory “beginning of many years of science,” Pontoppidan said.
Webb’s exact intentions for these first images have not been revealed because the telescope team does not want to spoil the surprise. And these goals could change as the team gets closer to taking pictures.
The first images will look like what we are used to seeing from The Hubble Space Telescope in terms of aesthetic quality, Pontoppidan said.
“Astronomy is not going to be the same again once we see what (Webb) can do with these first observations,” Christopher Evans, a Webb scientist at the European Space Agency, told a news conference.