Science

Scientists giddy as NASA releases image of distant star, galaxies from James Webb Space Telescope

NASA released an image Wednesday from the James Webb Space Telescope that was taken to see how its 18 hexagonal mirrors worked together for a single co-ordinated image of a star 1.6 million kilometres away from Earth. Officials said it worked better than expected.

NASA's test image was aimed at a star 100 times fainter than the human eye can see — 2,000 light-years away

This image from the James Webb Space Telescope was taken in order to focus on a single bright star, however Webb's optics and NIRCam are so sensitive that the galaxies and stars seen in the background show up. The image was helped in part by the Canadian Space Agency's Fine Guidance Sensor. (NASA/STScI)

NASA's new space telescope has gazed into the distant universe and shown perfect vision: a spiky image of a faraway star photobombed by thousands of ancient galaxies.

The image released Wednesday from the James Webb Space Telescope is a test shot — not an official science observation — to see how its 18 hexagonal mirrors worked together for a single co-ordinated image taken 1.6 million kilometres away from Earth. Officials said it worked better than expected.

Last month, NASA looked at a much closer star with 18 separate images from its mirror segments.

Scientists said they were giddy as they watched the latest test photos arrive. NASA's test image was aimed at a star 100 times fainter than the human eye can see — 2,000 light-years away. A light-year is nearly 9.7 trillion kilometres.

The shape of Webb's mirrors and its filters made the shimmering star look more red and spiky but the background really stole the show.

"You can't help but see those thousands of galaxies behind it, really gorgeous," said Jane Rigby, Webb operations project scientist.

Those galaxies are several billion years old. Eventually, scientists hope Webb will see so faraway and back in time that it will only be "a couple hundred million years after the Big Bang," she said.

The first science images won't come until late June or early July.

Webb — successor to the nearly 32-year-old Hubble Space Telescope — blasted off from French Guiana in December and reached its designated perch in January.

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