A picture is usually worth a thousand words, but this one says just two: "It's alive!"
NASA's Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF), launched on August 25th, has passed the first crucial test of its onboard science instruments. After ejecting a dust cover and opening the telescope's aperture door, mission controllers switched on the Infrared Array Camera (IRAC) to make sure it had survived liftoff in good working order. With the 85-centimeter-wide (33½-inch) reflector pointed toward Perseus, IRAC made a 100-second exposure at a wavelength of 3.6 microns. Covering a 5-arcminute-wide square, the image reveals an assortment of stars and galaxies and indicates that both SIRTF and IRAC are behaving as expected. "It was absolutely amazing to see that first image so soon after launch," said Giovanni G. Fazio (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), the IRAC team leader. "No other observatory has produced an image so fast. Now I know what it must be like to be in heaven!"
The telescope's focus will be fine-tuned throughout September and October as SIRTF cools to its operating temperature of a few degrees above absolute zero. Science observations will get under way shortly thereafter. NASA expects to release more SIRTF images in December.