CAPE CANAVERAL (CBSMiami/AP) — NASA’s new James Webb Space telescope is impressing astronomers with stunning images in the home stretch of testing.
The highly anticipated first science images by the world’s premier space observatory aren’t expected until this summer. But recent test images captured by the telescope during its final commissioning phase are providing a glimpse of what’s to come.
“These are the sharpest infrared images ever taken by a space telescope,” said Michael McElwain, Webb observatory project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, during a news conference Monday.
The James Webb Space Telescope beamed back the latest test pictures of a neighboring satellite galaxy, and the results are stunning when compared with images taken by NASA’s previous infrared observatory, the Spitzer Space Telescope.
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Each of the 18 mirror segments on the new telescope is bigger than the single one on Spitzer.
“It’s not until you actually see the kind of image that it delivers that you really internalize and go ‘wow!’” said University of Arizona’s Marcia Rieke, chief scientist for Webb’s near-infrared camera. “Just think of what we’re going to learn.”
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Launched last December, the $10 billion Webb is the largest and most powerful astronomical observatory ever sent into space. It will seek light emitted by the first stars and galaxies close to 14 billion years ago, and keep a sharp lookout for possible signs of life.
Scientists are keeping the identity of Webb’s first official target a secret.
Positioned 1 million miles from Earth, Webb is considered the successor to the aging Hubble Space Telescope.
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