first images come in as nasa’s telescope aligns


during the several weeks since NASA‘s james webb space telescope and its sunshield were deployed (see designboom’s coverage here), its honeycomb-like array of 18 mirrors have been aligning and cooling down. with these processes well underway, team members have seen the first photons of starlight which have traveled through the entire telescope and were detected by the near infrared camera (NIRCam) instrument.


this means that the telescope has captured its first-ever set of images, which have been revealed today. the team at NASA revealed these images at 10:30am EST (16:30 CET), and can be seen below!

NASA james webb imagesthe first image captured by the james webb space telescope | image © NASA



what do we see?


the first image captured by NASA’s james webb space telescope (see more here) appears as a blurry cluster of starlight. in fact, the telescope has identified starlight from the same star in each of its 18 primary mirror segments. the result is an image mosaic of 18 randomly organized dots of starlight, the product of webb’s unaligned mirror segments all reflecting light from the same star back at webb’s secondary mirror and into NIRCam’s detectors.


moving forward, the telescope’s images will only become clearer, more detailed, and more intricate as its other instruments continue to cool down.

NASA james webb images
each dot within the mosaic is labeled by the corresponding primary mirror segment that captured it | image © NASA



marcia rieke, principal investigator for the nircam instrument and regents professor of astronomy, university of arizona comments:the entire webb team is ecstatic at how well the first steps of taking images and aligning the telescope are proceeding. we were so happy to see that light makes its way into NIRCam.’


michael mcelwain, webb observatory project scientist, NASA’s goddard space flight center continues:launching webb to space was of course an exciting event, but for scientists and optical engineers, this is a pinnacle moment, when light from a star is successfully making its way through the system down onto a detector.’

NASA james webb images
a ‘mirror selfie’ lens was created to be used strictly for engineering and alignment purposes | image © NASA

NASA james webb images
james webb space telescope, primary mirror segment | image © NASA/MSFC/david higginbotham

NASA’s james webb telescope sees its first star: images unveiled today
the kite-like sunshield protects the telescope from external sources of light and heat (like the sun) and keeps it cool