Photo Shows NASA's James Webb Telescope Zooming Through Space Away From Earth

The latest image of the James Webb Space Telescope gliding through space has been released by the Virtual Telescope Project as it aims to unfold the primary mirror.

The image of the telescope, seen as a small dot against a backdrop of countless stars, was taken on January 6 by Virtual Telescope Project manager Gianluca Masi using a 17" PlaneWave telescope system.

The image, below, is the result of a 180-second exposure, as the telescope tracked Webb across the sky, which is marked by an arrow in the center of the image.

James Webb Telescope
The James Webb Space Telescope, marked by a white arrow, pictured from Earth in Italy on January 6, 2022. The telescope is currently traveling away from Earth on its way to its desired orbit around the sun. Gianluca Masi/Virtual Telescope Project

Webb was just under 1 million kilometers (621,000 miles) away from Earth at the time the image was taken. Its progress through space can be followed via an online tracker.

In a post on the Virtual Telescope Project's website, Masi said Webb is still easy to spot using his ground-based instruments due to its recently deployed sunshield, which has made it much brighter.

The Virtual Telescope Project is also due to host live footage of Webb moving across the sky as seen from Earth later today on its website's WebTV page. The live feed is due to start at 4:30 p.m. ET.

The James Webb Space Telescope is progressing to the next stage of its deployment today by spreading its primary mirror "wings," NASA said in a blog post on Friday.

It marks the final stage of the telescope's major structural deployments as it speeds through space toward its desired orbit around the sun. The telescope has already managed to unfurl its heat shield and secondary mirror.

In order to fully deploy its primary mirror, two side panels each containing three of the telescope's 18 gold-coated mirror segments must swing into place. Engineers will start with the left panel today.

Overall the process will take several hours. Motors will quickly rotate the panel into position within minutes, but it will take a couple of hours to secure it into place, NASA said. The right panel will follow the same process on Saturday.

Once the mirror is fully deployed, engineers will work to configure each of the telescope's 18 mirror segments so that they are in the correct position. This step will take days to complete, according to NASA's deployment schedule.

Finally, later this month around 30 days after its launch on December 25, Webb will reach its desired orbital destination—a position in space known as L2, where it will stay in line with the Earth.

A months-long process of testing and calibration will follow. NASA expects regular science operations and images from the telescope to begin by around six months after launch—though some initial images may arrive earlier.

It's the most powerful space telescope ever built, according to NASA.

James Webb Telescope
An illustration of the James Webb Space Telescope. The telescope is due to start deploying its primary mirror today. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center