Last week, the European Space Agency released the latest calibration images of the James Webb Space Telescope. What is most impressive is the demonstration with all the telescope’s instruments working together, showing that everything is ready for the start of scientific operations soon.
It’s important to remember that James Webb has multiple cameras, not just one. Each camera has a specialty, so the telescope can fulfill various scientific tasks, adapting to each question it tries to answer.
NIRCAM, for example, which can be seen in the center of the image, is the camera that will get the most accurate images. With two parallel detectors, it operates in the near infrared and must be the one that will produce the most beautiful photos that James Webb will publish.
NIRSPEC, on the other hand, is what we call a spectrograph. It is not possible to notice in this image, but it has a series of micro-shutters, that is, microscopic “windows” that open and close as needed. This allows scientists to identify, for example, the chemical composition or movement of objects in each pixel of the image.
There’s also NIRISS, there in the lower right corner. It is like a mixture of the two previous ones: it will be able to make images, but it will also be able to identify the composition of objects.
Lastly, my favorite: MIRI operates at lower energies than other instruments. This means that this camera is able to “see” colder objects. So, in addition to the stars, it can also better see the gas around it. This gas is the fuel for the formation of new stars — so we hope to better understand, with James Webb, how stars are born in galaxies.
The Fine Guidance Sensor, which appears at the bottom of the image, was not made for science, but primarily to verify that the telescope is pointing in the right direction. But I’m sure a more creative scientist will be able to find an innovative use for this instrument.
Finally, I leave you with this incredible image compiled by astronomer András Gáspár, from the University of Arizona. He made this comparison of James Webb’s powers of observation with his predecessors. With this improvement, we can expect amazing things from this observatory!
Thank you to @gbrammer for pointing out that the Spitzer SAGE survey took IRAC images of this region! I completely missed this. Check out the evolution of Infrared Space Telescopes! pic.twitter.com/BjrbAgk4ND
– Andras Gaspar (@AndrasGaspar) April 29, 2022