The James Webb Space Telescope has taken a striking image focused on a single star, called 2Mass J17554042+6551277, with galaxies and stars visible in the background.
Webb’s optics and NIRCam instrument are so sensitive that other space objects in the background showed up in the image.
The $10 billion telescope — the world’s most powerful — was launched into orbit on Christmas Day and has reached a key milestone now that its enormous honeycomb-shaped mirror is fully aligned.
The observatory is a step closer to beginning science operations. It should be able to capture images more than 13.5 billion light-years away and offer a glimpse into the birth of the universe.
“We have fully aligned and focused the telescope on a star, and the performance is beating specifications. We are excited about what this means for science,” said Ritva Keski-Kuha, deputy optical telescope element manager for Webb at Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Centre.
“We now know we have built the right telescope.”
The telescope also took a “selfie” of its hexagonal mirror, which is made up of 18 individual mirrors.
In the image, all of the mirror segments are seen collecting light from the same star in unison.
These images were taken for alignment evaluation and science operations are expected to begin in summer.
“More than 20 years ago, the Webb team set out to build the most powerful telescope that anyone has ever put in space and came up with an audacious optical design to meet demanding science goals,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for Nasa’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
“Today, we can say that design is going to deliver.”
Over the next six weeks, the team will complete the remaining alignment steps before the final preparation of science instruments.