On Tuesday morning, NASA will show the first images and data from the new James Webb Space Telescope. This marks the end of around 30 years and $10 billion of planning, building, testing and innovation, followed by 6 months of terror, excitement and anticipation.
The images represent a sightseeing tour of the universe painted in colors no human eye has seen – the invisible rays of infrared, or thermal radiation. Infrared rays are blocked by the atmosphere and can therefore only be studied in space. Among other things, they can penetrate the dust clouds that enshroud the cosmic nurseries where stars are born and turn them into transparent bubbles that reveal the baby stars nesting within.
The first picture will be unveiled by President Biden at the White House at 5 p.m. Monday in an event that will be streamed on NASA TV or the agency’s YouTube channel. NASA will then show more images in a live video stream Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. Eastern Time. You can sign up for a reminder on your personal digital calendar here to get a first look.
Only the tiniest sliver of the world’s astronomers have already caught a glimpse of what the Webb has seen. But NASA officials, who were given an early glimpse of the new images, could only rave during a news conference in late June.
Pamela Melroy, NASA assistant administrator and former astronaut, said she could hardly contain herself.
Learn more about the James Webb Space Telescope
After traveling almost a million miles to reach a place beyond the moon, the James Webb Space Telescope will spend years observing the cosmos.
“What I saw moved me as a scientist, an engineer and a person,” she said.
Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s deputy administrator for science missions, compared looking at the images to a moment when he was a graduate student analyzing data at 2 a.m. and realizing he had discovered something about the universe that no one else knew. It’s surprisingly emotional, he said, to see nature reveal its secrets.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said, “We’re going to give humanity a new way of looking at the cosmos,” and hailed the telescope as “a fine example of what government can do.”
Webb is the largest space telescope ever launched. Its mission is to explore the earliest days of the universe, when galaxies and stars just solidified out of the nebula of the Big Bang and reached further in time and space than the Hubble Space Telescope can. Just as the Hubble has defined astronomy for the past 30 years, NASA expects the Webb will define astronomy for a new generation of astronomers who have been eagerly awaiting their own rendezvous with the cosmos.
“We all know that Webb is going to absolutely blow Hubble out of the water by going deeper and finding the earliest galaxies,” said Garth Illingworth, an astrophysicist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who has used Hubble and other telescopes to investigate to search for distant primeval galaxies.
According to Bill Ochs, the telescope’s project manager, the telescope is the result of the combined efforts of about 20,000 engineers, astronomers, technicians and bureaucrats. It is now orbiting the Sun at a point called L2, a million miles from Earth, where the combined gravitational fields of the Moon, Earth, and Sun conspire to create a semi-stable point of rest. Its mirror is made of 18 gold-coated beryllium hexagons and looks like a sunflower – if you could see it from here – floating on the blade of a giant scoop, which is a sunshade, keeping the telescope cold and always outward from our own star indicates .
The images, which will be unveiled on Monday and Tuesday, were chosen by a small team of astronomers and science experts to demonstrate the power of the new telescope and blow the public’s socks off. The release of the images at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland on Tuesday will be followed by a scientific seminar and a rush of professional astronomers to their computers to begin recording and analyzing their own data from scientific observations that began in June.
On Friday, NASA released a list of the five subjects in the images. Among them are old friends of amateur and professional astronomers, who you can now see in new infrared robes.
There’s the Southern Ring Nebula, a shell of gas being expelled from a dying star about 2,000 light-years from here, and the Carina Nebula, a vast swirling expanse of gas and stars, including some of the most massive and potentially explosive star systems in the world’s Milky Way.
Another well-known astronomical scene is Stephan’s Quintet, a dense cluster of galaxies, two of which are in the process of merging, about 290 million light-years from here in the constellation Pegasus.
The team will also publish a detailed spectrum of an exoplanet called WASP-96b, a gas giant half the mass of Jupiter orbiting a star 1,150 light-years away every 3.4 days. It’s far too hot and big to harbor life, but such a spectrum is the kind of detail that could reveal what’s in this world’s atmosphere.
Finally, but not least, is a strip of southern sky evocatively named SMACS 0723. It’s a field often visited by Hubble and other telescopes, and it contains a massive galaxy cluster whose gravitational field acts like a lens that Light magnified and visualized from galaxies beyond and even further back in time.
dr Zurbuchen said this image is the deepest glimpse into our cosmos’ past yet, showing galaxies that emerged as sparks in the night from the mist of creation nearly 14 billion years ago. Later images, he added, would certainly look even further back.
“It’s really hard not to break records with this telescope,” said Dr. to book.