A cluster of galaxies known as Stephan's Quintet captured by the James Webb Space Telescope

Webb Telescope will alter view of cosmos, thanks to a Northeastern graduate

The stars were out to shine on Tuesday as NASA revealed the first full-color images taken by the James Webb Space Telescope, the largest and most powerful telescope ever sent into space.

Galaxies engaged in a cosmic, gravitational dance, dying stars ejecting gas and dust, active black holes and a star being born in the Carina Nebula: The five images revealed Tuesday show the vastness of space with an unprecedented level of detail. And one Northeastern alum is partly to thank for that.

In 1976, Robert Gonsalves, a former Northeastern electrical engineering professor and Ph.D. student, wrote an article on an imaging technique known as phase retrieval, which helps fix flaws in imaging devices, similar to an autofocus on modern cameras or a prescription for glasses. It was a novel idea, but he never thought the idea would escape the bubble of academia.

“It was totally useless for the next 15 years––useless until it wasn’t,” Gonsalves said.

NASA launched the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990 with a warped mirror that produced low quality images. In its search for solutions, NASA contacted Gonsalves and ended up recruiting him to fix the telescope using phase retrieval. Within two months, Gonsalves had devised a prescription for the telescope. Almost 20 years later, in 2008, NASA contacted Gonsalves again, this time to help with its still-in-development James Webb Space Telescope.

 

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Photo by NASA.