The first full-color images and data from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will be released later today at 10:30 a.m. EDT on July 12. JWST will show unprecedented detail of the universe, surpassing previous space telescopes’ performance.
JWST is the largest and most complex space telescope ever built, an international cooperative effort led by NASA in conjunction with the European and Canadian space agencies. The premiere space science observatory launched from Guiana Space Center about six months ago on December 25, 2021.
Designed for near-infrared astronomy, Webb can see Near Infrared, Mid-Infrared, and red and orange visible light. These wavelengths are absorbed by Earth’s atmosphere making ground-based infrared telescopes impossible. The space telescope has the ability to detect objects up to 100 times fainter than Hubble can. These objects would be found much earlier in our cosmic history including the earliest stars and galaxies.
Last week, NASA released an engineering test image produced during a thermal stability test in May. While not designed for science observation, the captured imagery hints at the power of the telescope. Bright stars are discerned by their six, sharp protruding diffraction spikes. Beyond them, galaxies fill the background. At the time, this image was the deepest capture of the universe ever taken. JWST will continue to fulfill the accolade, allowing scientists to study 13.5 billion years of cosmic history including light from the first galaxies of our universe.
Yesterday, July 11, President Joe Biden unveiled the first image, known as Webb’s First Deep Field. The Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) captures SMACS 0723 as it appeared 4.6 billion years ago. The image is a composite of several different wavelengths, achieving depths beyond the Hubble Space Telescope’s deepest field.
“This slice of the vast universe covers a patch of sky approximately the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length by someone on the ground,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson shared about the first image.
Four more full-color images have been planned for release to celebrate the official beginning of Webb’s science operations. They were selected by a committee of representatives from NASA, ESA, CSA, and the Space Telescope Science Institute.
The first cycle, or year, of science observation will come from 286 selected proposals across a wide spectrum of science areas. Scientists from around the world applied for time to utilize the new infrared space telescope. The proposal process was highly competitive, rigorous, and meticulous, with more than 1,000 proposals submitted from 44 different countries.
“The initial year of Webb’s observations will provide the first opportunity for a diverse range of scientists around the world to observe particular targets with NASA’s next great space observatory,” said Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA. “The amazing science that will be shared with the global community will be audacious and profound.”
This selection of observers will find the cosmos’ first galaxies, explore the formation of stars, and measure both physical and chemical properties of planetary systems.
“We are opening the infrared treasure chest, and surprises are guaranteed,” said Dr. John C. Mather, Senior Project Scientist for the Webb mission and Senior Astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “How did the universe make galaxies, stars, black holes, and planets, and our own very special little Earth? I don’t know yet, but we are getting closer every day.”
Last Updated as of 9am ET July 12th, 2022.
Edited by Derek Newsome.