The scientific and astronomical community are eagerly waiting for Tuesday, July 12th, to come around. On this day, the first images taken by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will be released! According to a previous statement by the agency, these images will include the deepest views of the Universe ever taken and spectra obtained from an exoplanet atmosphere. In another statement issued yesterday, the images were so beautiful that they almost brought Thomas Zarbuchen – Associate Administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) – to tears!

The James WebbSpace Telescope is the most powerful and complex observatory ever deployed, not to mention the most expensive ($10 billion)! Because of its complex system of mirrors and its advanced sun shield, the telescope had to be designed so that it could be folded up (origami style) to fit inside a payload fairing, then unfold once it reached space. To ensure everything would work, the telescope had to be rigorously tested, a process that caused several delays and cost overruns (a situation made worse by the COVID pandemic).


Engineering images of sharply focused stars in the field of view of each instrument demonstrate that the telescope is fully aligned and in focus. Credit: Credit: NASA/ESA/STScI

Since it launched on Christmas Day in 2021, the observatory has successfully unfolded, commissioned its science instruments, and reached the L2 Lagrange Point, where it will remain for its entire mission. It also successfully aligned all 18 of its segmented mirrors, which are arranged in a honeycomb configuration that measures 6.5 meters (more than 21 feet) in diameter – almost three times the size of Hubble’s primary mirror. Previously, NASA released test images the JWST took of a star 2,000 light-years from Earth in the direction of the constellation Ursa Major (HD 84406).

According to Zurbuchen, who saw the images during a Wednesday briefing with other NASA officials, the first-light images it has taken provide a “new worldview” into the cosmos. Addressing what it was like to see the first-light images at the Wednesday news conference, Zarbuchen said:

“The images are being taken right now. There is already some amazing science in the can, and some others are yet to be taken as we go forward. We are in the middle of getting the history-making data down. It’s really hard to not look at the Universe in a new light and not just have a moment that is deeply personal. It’s an emotional moment when you see nature suddenly releasing some of its secrets, and I would like you to imagine and look forward to that.”

During the news conference, NASA officials said that the images and other data would include the deepest-field image of the Universe ever taken. The previous record-holder was the image acquired as part of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, which included 10,000 galaxies of various ages, colors, and distances in the direction of the constellation Fornax. The 100 oldest galaxies in the image (shown below) appear deep red and were dated to just 800 million years after the Big Bang, making them the most distant and oldest ever viewed.


This view of nearly 10,000 galaxies is called the Hubble Ultra Deep Field. Credit: NASA/ESA

The James Webb images peer even further into the cosmos and reveal what galaxies looked
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