24 March 2022, The Tablet

How astronony connects us all, near and far

We all live, and die, under the same sky.

How astronony connects us all, near and far

NASA has achieved a major milestone in its preparation of the new James Webb Space Telescope as engineerrs manage to focus on a test star.
ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy


The image was striking: a brilliant star radiating long reddish-yellow spikes of light. But it wasn’t the star that gave this photo the place of honour on the Astronomy Picture of the Day (Apod) website last week. Faint wisps of light surrounding the star on closer inspection reveal themselves to be tiny images of galaxies – which are themselves not at all tiny, just billions of light years away. But even the galaxies were not the story.

This was a test image from the new James Webb Space Telescope (I wrote about the Webb in the 8 January issue of The Tablet). After 25 years of planning and a journey of hundreds of thousands of miles, the 18 segments of its primary mirror have unfolded themselves and have moved into position to bring all the light they reflect into a common focus. The precision of the alignment means that these segments work together as one telescope mirror more than 20 feet wide. Webb is one of the largest telescopes ever made. With its resolution, what were just blobs of light in smaller telescopes now become crisp galaxy images.

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