NASA Releases First Groundbreaking Images From James Webb Space Telescope
A breathtaking landscape of mountain and valley-like shapes dotted with stars actually depicts the edge of a young, star-forming region thousands of light-years from Earth in one image captured by NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope. The groundbreaking photos released this week by NASA reveal previously invisible emerging stellar nurseries and new details about distant galaxies for the first time ever.
NASA began sharing photos from its multibillion-dollar telescope Monday, July 11, with more images following on Tuesday on the space agency’s website. Scientists are also showcasing the photos in New York City’s Times Square and Piccadilly Circus in London, more than six months after the Webb telescope was launched.
“Absolutely thrilling!” John Mather, Webb senior project scientist and cosmologist, said in a NASA press release. “The equipment is working perfectly, and nature is full of surprising beauty. Congratulations and thanks to our worldwide teams that made it possible.”
After more than 20 years of development, NASA launched the JWST on Christmas Day 2021 in a highly anticipated event for scientists and the public as the pricey endeavor set sail for answers to the questions surrounding the early beginnings of the universe.
The first batch of images showcase five regions of space researchers targeted: the Carina Nebula; Stephan’s Quintet, a grouping of five galaxies; the Southern Ring Nebula; the WASP-96 b exoplanet; and the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723, also known as Webb’s First Deep Field.
The White House and NASA revealed the first image Monday, showing the galaxy cluster known as Webb’s First Deep Field, which contains thousands of individual galaxies. The final picture is a composite, made from images at different wavelengths over the course of 12 1/2 hours.
According to NASA, the picture shows the galaxy cluster as it existed 4.6 billion years ago and achieved depths “at infrared wavelengths beyond the Hubble Space Telescope’s deepest fields, which took weeks.”
Researchers will continue taking even longer exposures with Webb in hopes of learning more “about the galaxies’ masses, ages, histories, and compositions.”
The Webb telescope uses 18 hexagonal, gold-covered beryllium mirrors spanning 21 feet to analyze the heat and infrared light from the edge of the universe — the only signatures left from dead stars.
It is among the most expensive space platforms in history, “comparable only to the Hubble Space Telescope and the Large Hadron Collider at CERN,” according to a 2021 Planetary Society article. The Planetary Society estimates the telescope will cost NASA $9.7 billion over 24 years, most of it spent between 2003 and 2021; however, that isn’t the project’s total cost. The European Space Agency contributed around 700 million euros, and the Canadian Space Agency gave approximately C$200 million.
The Webb takes its name from NASA’s second administrator, James E. Webb, a Marine Corps veteran and longtime public servant who led NASA from 1961 to 1968. While President John F. Kennedy had pledged to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade, Webb thought the space program should be more than a political tool.
“Webb believed that NASA had to strike a balance between human space flight and science because such a combination would serve as a catalyst for strengthening the nation’s universities and aerospace industry,” NASA’s website reads.
That vision spurred the development of robotic spacecraft and more than 75 space science missions to study the stars and galaxies by the time man first set foot on the moon in July 1969, making Webb an apt choice to lend his name to the world’s newest space observatory.
You can keep track of the Webb telescope’s location with NASA’s tracking tool.