NASA is gearing up to show what the James Webb Space Telescope is capable of when the space agency releases the first color images from the observatory before it begins scientific operations that will reveal the mysteries of the universe.
After Christmas morning begins, the telescope’s 6.5-meter mirror opened, and its tennis-court-sized sun shield stretched out into space. The telescope is now positioned 1 million miles from Earth And, once commissioned, is ready to begin scientific observations decades in the making.
NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency plan to release the first full-color images and spectroscopic data from the James Webb Space Telescope on Tuesday, July 12 at 10:30 a.m. ET. The unveiling will be streamed live online at NASA.gov and the agency’s social media platforms.
Consider this a friendly warning that these carefully planned cosmic images will be everywhere come Tuesday.
Already, Webb’s imaging team has shared snippets of Webb’s capabilities, indicating that the upcoming films will have something to talk about.
In April, the space agency and its telescope partners released First image taken after aligning and “fine phasing” the optical telescope element.
NASA Webb Operations Scientist Jane Rigby explained that Webb’s team did not choose the star called 2MASS J17554042+655127 for any scientific reason. Still, even though the star was a hundred times fainter than the human eye could see, it was blindingly bright to Webb and a testament to the telescope’s sensitivity.
Then in May, the Web Science team He shared a picture of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite of the Milky Way, used to test the telescope’s Mid-Infrared Instrument, or MIRI. The image below shows the same scene taken by NASA’s now-retired Spitzer Space Telescope’s Infrared Array Camera and Webb’s MIRI.
“Spitzer has taught us a lot, but it’s like a whole new world, incredibly beautiful,” Marcia Raik, Webb’s near-infrared camera principal investigator, said in May.
Ahead of the big reveal, NASA released a list of cosmic targets for Webb’s first images. According to the space agency, the objects were selected by an international panel consisting of representatives from NASA, ESA, CSA and the Space Telescope Science Institute.
The James Webb Space Telescope’s first color images include the largest and brightest nebulae in the Universe, the Carina Nebula, 7,600 light-years away, and WASP-96 b, a gas exoplanet 1,150 light-years from Earth. The Southern Ring Nebula, an expanding cloud of gas around a dying star, will feature in JWST’s first data release. Finally, Stephen’s Quintet, a small galaxy cluster in the Pegasus constellation, and a galaxy cluster known as SMACX 0723 will test the observatory’s deep-field viewing capabilities.
JWST mission managers say the telescope has enough fuel to continue operating for decades because of its precise launch trajectory. Its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, has been operating continuously for more than 30 years in an orbit about 300 miles from Earth. After the first images came back blurry, NASA astronauts conducted several space missions to repair a defect in Hubble’s primary mirror.
The James Webb Space Telescope is about 1 million miles from Earth, meaning a repair job is out of the question. Fortunately, Webb’s first images came back clear.