NASA is preparing to show what the James Webb Space Telescope is capable of when the space agency releases the first color images of the observatory ahead of scientific operations unveiling the mysteries of the universe.
To Start on Christmas morningthe telescope’s 6.5-meter mirror opened and its tennis court-sized sunshade unfolded into space. The telescope is now approximately stationed 1 million miles from Earth and, once commissioned, is ready to begin decades of scientific observations.
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 revelation will be streamed live online on NASA.gov and on the agency’s social media platforms.
Take this as a friendly warning that these carefully planned cosmic images will be everywhere next Tuesday.
Webb’s imaging team has already shared snippets of Webb’s skills, suggesting the upcoming images will be something to talk about.
In April, the space agency and its telescope partners released the first image taken after completing the “fine phase” alignment of the telescope’s optical element.
Webb’s team didn’t choose the star, called 2MASS J17554042+655127, for scientific reasons, explained NASA-Webb Operations Scientist Jane Rigby. Despite being a hundred times fainter than the light a human eye could see, the star was blindingly bright to Webb and a testament to the telescope’s sensitivity.
Then, in May, the Webb science team shared an image of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, which they used to test the telescope’s mid-infrared instrument, or MIRI. The image below shows the same view captured by the infrared array camera of NASA’s now defunct Spitzer Space Telescope and then by Webb’s MIRI.
“Spitzer taught us a lot, but this is like a whole new world, just incredibly beautiful,” Marcia Rieke, principal investigator of Webb’s near-infrared camera, said in May.
Before 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 committee including representatives from NASA, ESA, CSA and the Space Telescope Science Institute.
The first color images from the James Webb Space Telescope show the largest and brightest nebulae in the Universe, the Carina Nebula, located 7,600 light-years away, and WASP-96 b, a gas exoplanet about 1,150 light-years from Earth. The Southern Ring Nebula, an expanding cloud of gas surrounding a dying star, will also feature in JWST’s first data release. Finally, the compact galaxy group Stephan’s Quintet, located in the constellation Pegasus, and a galaxy cluster called SMACX 0723 will test the observatory’s deep-field viewing capabilities.
JWST mission managers say the telescope has enough fuel to continue operations for several decades because of the precise launch trajectory. Its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, continues to operate some 300 miles above Earth after more than 30 years in orbit. NASA astronauts conducted multiple spacewalks to fix a flaw in Hubble’s primary mirror after the first images came back blurry.
The James Webb Space Telescope observatory is about 1 million miles from Earth, which means a repair mission is out of the question. Luckily, Webb’s first images came back crystal clear.