As the countdown to the James Webb Space Telescope‘s first observations dwindles down, NASA is treating us to more good news. All of the telescope's mirrors have been aligned and its four imaging instruments are performing far better than expected. To prove that point, NASA has released a new image comparing the quality of a photo taken by the Webb telescope against that of a decommissioned telescope. The results are astonishing.
Webb's coldest instrument, the MIRI (Mid-Infrared Instrument) gives a crisp, clear look at a small satellite galaxy of the Milky Way called the Large Magellanic Cloud. When this image is held up against one previously taken by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope’s Infrared Array Camera, the results are clear. Webb truly outdoes the competition with this detailed look at the satellite galaxy. The image is so crisp that it's even possible to see the wisps of interstellar gas in detail.
It's a stunning accomplishment given that, at the time it was in use, the Spitzer Space Telescope was using cutting-edge technology. Launched in 2003 and retired in 2020, it was the first telescope to provide high-resolution images of the near- and mid-infrared universe. Now, James Webb Space Telescope is taking over that legacy and bringing us even more information about our universe.
In the lead-up to when Webb will begin scientific observations this summer, the team will test all 17 instrument modes to ensure that everything runs smoothly with its four instruments. Once that is complete, Webb will be ready to get to work. This testing should take two months and, at the same time, the team will continue to monitor the mirror alignment and adjust as necessary.