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UArizona camera gives telescope best look at the universe

Helps make Webb Space Telescope the most powerful
Posted at 9:00 PM, Mar 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-17 00:00:05-04

TUCSON, Ariz (KGUN) — The most powerful space telescope ever made is coming into sharp focus through a camera designed by the University of Arizona.

The James Webb Space Telescope is the product of decades of work by teams around the world but the first images are coming from a camera designed at the University of Arizona and that camera is helping engineers adjust the mirror to bring the universe into the sharpest focus we’ve ever seen .

The photo NASA released Wednesday may be beautiful but that star’s not that special scientifically. What does make it special is it has the right qualities as a test target to help engineers bring the eighteen sections of mirror into focus so they function like a single mirror more than 20 feet across. NASA says that work is complete now.

Even in the test phase the University of Arizona camera was sharp enough to not only send back sharp images of the test star, but also capture a sea of galaxies so distant you are seeing light created billions of years ago.

UArizona Astronomer Kevin Hainline is on the team that developed the NIRCam. He says the Webb telescope is much more powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope.

“Hubble gave us a really good view of the early universe," Hainline said. "But if the universe was a human, it told us about the universe as it was when it was one year old and a lot can happen between you know, when a baby's born in one year.”

He says the Webb can show us the universe as if it were one day old,

It helps that the Webb has a much larger mirror than Hubble, but also because it’s focused more on infrared, a type of light we can’t see with our own eyes. Infrared is more likely to be able to reach us across the billions of miles—and years.

Hainline’s specialty is studying galaxies and the deep reach from the Webb telescope should help him see galaxies form—-and gain insight into how the universe—and life were created.

He says, “The universe in its very early state was pristine. It was very simple gases, but we’re made of things that are not the simple stuff from the Big Bang. So that happened inside a star inside a galaxy, and we can watch that slowly happen. To understand how the universe created such diversity around us.”

Researchers compete to get research time with powerful telescopes like the Webb but since UA helped create key instruments on the telescope UA scientists are guaranteed large blocks of time on the scope so they have more opportunity to use its reach to understand the universe.