Webb Mirror Alignment Animations

  • Released Wednesday, February 16, 2022
  • Updated Monday, April 25, 2022 at 11:06AM
  • ID: 20358

Crowded field yields light on NIRCam instrument to check it's properly functioning for its key role in aligning Webb's mirrors.

1A. Segment Image Identification

Image Mosaic is created with the NIRCam instrument to find the 18 mirror reflections.

We are pointing the telescope at a bright, isolated star (HD 84406) to capture a series of images that are then stitched together to form a picture of that part of the sky. But remember, we don’t have just one mirror looking at this star; we have 18 mirrors, each of which is initially tilted towards a different part of the sky. As a result, we’ll actually capture 18 slightly shifted copies of the star – each one out of focus and uniquely distorted. We refer to these initial star-copies as “segment images.” In fact, depending on the starting positions of the mirrors, it may take multiple iterations to locate all 18 segments in one image.

1B. Segment Image Identification

One by one, we will move the 18 mirror segments to determine which segment creates which segment image. After matching the mirror segments to their respective images, we can tilt the mirrors to bring all the images near a common point for further analysis. We call this arrangement an “image array.”

  1. Segment Alignment

    After we have the image array, we can perform Segment Alignment, which corrects most of the large positioning errors of the mirror segments.

    We begin by defocusing the segment images by moving the secondary mirror slightly. Mathematical analysis, called Phase Retrieval, is applied to the defocused images to determine the precise positioning errors of the segments. Adjustments of the segments then result in 18 well-corrected “telescopes.” However, the segments still don’t work together as a single mirror.

  1. Image Stacking

    To put all of the light in a single place, each segment image must be stacked on top of one another. In the Image Stacking step, we move the individual segment images so that they fall precisely at the center of the field to produce one unified image. This process prepares the telescope for Coarse Phasing.

    The stacking is performed sequentially in three groups (A-segments, B-segments, and C-segments).

  1. Coarse Phasing

    Although Image Stacking puts all the light in one place on the detector, the segments are still acting as 18 small telescopes rather than one big one. The segments need to be lined up with each other with an accuracy smaller than the wavelength of the light.

    Conducted three times during the commissioning process, Coarse Phasing measures and corrects the vertical displacement (piston difference) of the mirror segments. Using a technology known as Dispersed Fringe Sensing, we use NIRCam to capture light spectra from 20 separate pairings of mirror segments. The spectrum will resemble a barber pole pattern with a slope (or angle) determined by the piston difference of the two segments in the pairing.

    In this simulation, the “Barber pole” patterns are created by the Disperse Fringe Sensor indicating a large piston error (top) or a small piston error (bottom). Credit: NASA

  1. Fine Phasing

    Fine Phasing is also conducted three times, directly after each round of Coarse Phasing, and then routinely throughout Webb’s lifespan. These operations measure and correct the remaining alignment errors using the same defocusing method applied during Segment Alignment. However, instead of using the secondary mirror, we use special optical elements inside the science instrument which introduce varying amounts of defocus for each image (-8, -4, +4, and +8 waves of defocus).

  1. Telescope Alignment Over Instrument Fields of View

    After Fine Phasing, the telescope will be well aligned at one place in the NIRCam field of view. Now we need to extend the alignment to the rest of the instruments.

    In this phase of the commissioning process, we make measurements at multiple locations, or field points, across each of the science instruments, as shown below. More variation in intensity indicates larger errors at that field point. An algorithm calculates the final corrections needed to achieve a well-aligned telescope across all science instruments.


Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab

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