NASA's "Star Catcher" Examined In A New "Behind The Webb" Video
May 22, 2014

New “Behind The Webb” Video Examines NASA’s “Star Catcher”

[ Watch The Video: Star Catcher: Behind The Webb ]

Rob Gutro, NASA

Catching glimpses of early stars is one of the things that the Near Infrared Camera or NIRCam will do when it flies aboard the James Webb Space Telescope. "Star Catcher" is the title of the newest video in the "Behind the Webb" series that takes viewers behind the scenes to understand more about the Webb telescope.

Mary Estacion of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Md. hosts the series. In "Star Catcher," Mary interviewed Dr. Marcia Rieke in the clean room of Lockheed Martin's Advanced Technology Center (LTC), Palo Alto, California where the NIRCam was recently installed into the framework of the Webb. Rieke is a Professor of Astronomy at the University of Arizona, Tucson, and the principal investigator for the NIRCam.

The video allows viewers to see a test of the NIRCAM while it is being fed by the Optical Metrology Assembly (OMA). The testing with the OMA made sure NIRCAM could not only see a star clearly, but use its vision to do science and help align the telescope.

NIRCam is one of the four science instruments on the Webb and will study infrared light. Because the universe is expanding, lightwaves from the earliest galaxies have been stretched, or "redshifted," from visible light into infrared light. Humans can't see infrared light, but can perceive it as heat. In order to sense heat, the NIRCam instrument will operate at very cold temperatures. NIRCam will be able to detect infrared light, making it essential to examining the early phases of star and galaxy formation, and studying the shapes and colors of distant galaxies. NIRCam will also help astronomers learn the age of stars in nearby galaxies.

"What we're expecting is to find the first galaxies that formed after the Big Bang," Reike said. "We hope to find and characterize planets around other stars. We hope to learn a lot more about how solar systems form, all kinds of things."

The NIRCam also serves as the "wavefront sensor." That means it will provide important information for shaping the telescope mirrors and aligning the Webb telescope's optics (mirrors) so that they can function properly and focus on distant objects in universe.

NIRCam was built by the University of Arizona and Lockheed Martin's Advanced Technology Center.

Webb is an international project led by NASA with its partners the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

The 2 minute and 53 second video was produced at STScI. The "Behind the Webb" video series is available in HQ, large and small Quicktime formats, HD, Large and Small WMV formats, and HD, Large and Small Xvid formats.