Astronomy forever changed with JWST’s launch in 2021, revealing unprecedented, pristine science images and surpassing all expectations. Advances in clean-room technology enabled a PSF twice as sharp as required and should remain operating through 2044.
On Christmas Day 2021, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) launched, marking a new era for astronomy. The launch was a success, with the solar array deploying 29 minutes after launch, and ~4 minutes ahead of schedule. By mid-2022, the JWST unveiled its first science images which were sharper and had less noise than anyone had predicted.
The key to understanding the telescope’s success was the unprecedented control of its Point Spread Function (PSF). This was made possible by advances in clean-room technology and handling, allowing the telescope to focus its light better than any space-based or ground-based telescope ever. The PSF was twice as sharp as required, allowing the telescope to capture details that were previously not possible.
The telescope’s remarkable performance has enabled a range of new discoveries. The first JWST deep field’s view of the core of cluster SMACS 0723 revealed 87 ultra-distant galaxy candidates. The JWST also captured views of Jupiter, Stephan’s Quintet, the Phantom Galaxy M74, and the Southern Ring Nebula in unprecedented detail.
The JWST has been performing even better than its design specifications would indicate. With the fuel saved from a near-perfect launch, JWST should remain operating so pristinely through 2044. This telescope has revolutionized astronomy and will continue to do so for many years to come.