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The James Webb Spce Telescope is about to complete the mirror alignment

The James Webb Spce Telescope is about to complete the mirror alignment

Progress continues for the commissioning of the James Webb space telescope. NASA announces that the team has successfully completed the second and third of the seven total phases of alignment of the mirrors of the space telescope.

The second phase of the alignment of the James Webb Space Telescope

The completion of the second phase, called Segment Alignmentand of the third, that of Image Stackingwill allow the ground team to begin making small adjustments to the position of the James Webb’s mirrors.

After having succeeded aspost the 18 segments of the main mirror in the distinctive hexagonal formation of the telescope, the ground team members then refined the image of each individual segment by adding small changes to their position and also changing the alignment of the secondary mirror of the telescope. A necessary step so that the different segments can one day work in unison as a single large mirror.

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The third phase is another small step towards a single eye in space

Having completed this phase of alignment, the team gave the way to the third phase, that of aligning the focus of the different segments in a single focal point. Once aligned the segments were in fact overlapping the different focal points of each mirror.

To carry out this phase, members of the Webb team illuminated each single segment with photons of light in the same position on the NIRCam sensor.

During this process the team activated series of six mirrors at a time ordering them to re-aim the light so that it overlapped, and they continued until all the points of light overlapped each other.

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Lee Feinberg, head of optical elements for the James Webb telescope at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center said that while “we still have work to do, we are increasingly satisfied with the results we are seeing. Years of planning and testing are paying off and the team couldn’t be more excited to see what happens in the coming weeks and months. ”

The next steps will make 18 mirror segments a telescope

In fact, despite the fact that the 18 different segments are currently able to direct the light in a single point on the NIRCam detector, the segments of the mirror they still act as 18 small individual telescopes rather than as a big one. The next steps will therefore be those necessary to align the segments to each other with an accuracy less than the wavelength of light.

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The Webb team is therefore ready to kick off the fourth phase, the one called Coarse Phasingwhere the NIRCam tool will be used to identify and correct vertical displacement between mirror segments or small differences in their heights.

Ph. Credit: NASA / STScI