Cosmic Photography

From a fledgling telescope

18-star snapshots and one selfie

Two months after a dramatic Christmas morning launching and several spine-tingling weeks of gyrations and unfoldings, the James Webb Space Telescope has achieved what astronomers celebrate as ''first light.'' Actually, it was first lights.

NASA recently released 18 images of a star in the constellation Ursa Major known as HD 84406, as seen through each of the 18 segments that make up the telescope's primary mirror and recorded by the Webb's workhorse instrument, the Near Infrared Camera [NIRCam].

Astronomers will now spend the next few months wiggling each of those mirror segments back and forth until the multiple star images became one.

As a bonus, a camera on the NIRCam took a picture of the mirror array itself - the closest look at the spacecraft anyone has gotten since shortly after it left Earth.

In a news release from NASA, Marcia Rieke, a professor of astronomy at the University of Arizona who led the team that built NIRCam, described the Webb team as ''ecstatic.''

The Webb telescope, which is named after a former NASA administrator, is a joint effort by NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency that has been 25 years in development.

The spacecraft was designed to study the universe when it was only about 200 million years old and the earliest galaxies were just emerging from the remains of the Big Bang. [ Dennis Overbye ]


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