It seemed impossible that we would ever see the giant James Webb Space Telescope again.
The observatory has traveled to its cosmic outpost almost a million miles from Earth. Surveillance cameras will not monitor the instrument through space and unfolds, and including them would be too risky and complicated.
NASA still managed to take a (somewhat coarse and eerie) selfie.
An auxiliary lens was used on NASA’s Near-Infrared Camera, or NIRCam, to look at the earliest stars and galaxies that formed in the universe over 13.5 billion years ago.
“This special lens is meant for engineering, not science, and allows NIRCam to capture an ‘inward-looking’ image of the primary mirror,” NASA tweeted. “This image helps us to check that the telescope is aligned with the science instruments.”
The Webb telescope’s grand “primary mirror” is actually made up of 18 hexagonal mirrors. Together, they make an over 21-foot-wide mirror, which is over two-and-a-half times the size of the iconic Hubble telescope’s mirror. It is important to note that a bigger mirror captures more light, allowing Webb to see fainter, more distant objects.
Engineers are still aligning these sensitive, gold-tinted mirrors at this early stage of the telescope’s mission in preparation for viewing the deep cosmos. As it comes into focus, the telescope is only focused on a single star, a process that will take weeks. NASA explained that the hexagonal segment is directly oriented with the star.
The Webb telescope won’t just observe ancient galaxies in the coming years, and Exoplanets within our own galaxy will also be able to be squinted at by those mirrors. We will learn unprecedented things about these distant worlds, and what they are made of.