First Images from James Webb Telescope Released by NASA
Thursday, August 11, 2022
Home  >  Beams of light  >  Spectrum of lights  >  Space Exploration  >  First Images from James Webb Telescope Released by NASA

User Rating: 5 / 5

Star ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar Active
 

 

NASA’s revolutionary, long-delayed $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope has produced its first full-color image, and it’s a doozy: a glimpse deep into space and back in time, capturing the faint light of galaxies forming in the infancy of the cosmos. The image, revealed Monday in a White House ceremony by President Biden and top NASA officials, shows a cluster of galaxies, called SMACS 0723, that functions as a massive lens, magnifying the extremely faint and cosmically distant objects behind it.

 

first images from Webb Telescope of the Universe

 

“We’re looking back more than 13 billion years,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said at the White House event. “Light travels at 186,000 miles per second, and that light that you are seeing from one of those little specks, has been traveling for over 13 billion years.” He added: “And by the way, we’re going back further. Because this is just the first image. ... We’re going back almost to the beginning.”

 

 

The new image is what is known as a “deep field” observation, with the telescope staring at what NASA called a “patch of sky approximately the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length by someone on the ground.” Outer space when viewed like this looks incredibly crowded — not so very spacious at all. What the Webb sees through this pinhole examination of the cosmic darkness is a hornet’s nest of brilliant but enigmatic objects in many colors. A smattering of stars have parked themselves in the foreground, but everything else is a galaxy — a vast agglomeration of stars, rendered into a small splash of light by the immense distances involved. Strikingly, the lensing effect has distorted some of the distant galaxies in the background, making them appear stretched and manipulated, as if made of Play-Doh.  “It’s astounding,” Biden said, expressing awe at the sight of “the oldest documented light in the history of the universe — from over 13 billion — let me say it again — over 13 billion years ago.” The White House described the image as the “highest-resolution images of the infrared universe ever captured.” The Webb is designed to observe in the infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, gathering light at wavelengths inaccessible to the acclaimed Hubble telescope.  

 

 President Biden talks with NASA leaders

President Biden talks with NASA leaders as the first full-color image from the Webb Space Telescope is revealed at the White House on July 11, 2022

 

NASA and its partners, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency, have been keeping a close hold on the first Webb images during the initial sequence of observations as the telescope, launched last Christmas, orbits the sun roughly a million miles from Earth. NASA has previously released a few testing-phase images of the telescope — thrilling astronomers with their clarity — but has described the images being released Monday and Tuesday as the first full-color images.

 

james webb telescope breathtaking images

 

The astronomical community is buzzing with excitement, awaiting what it believes will be revolutionary views of the universe across cosmic distances and with unrivaled resolution. The Webb promises to study planets that orbit distant stars, looking for signs of possible habitability — such as the presence of an atmosphere similar to Earth’s.  “You’re going to see whether or not planets, because of the chemical composition that we can determine with this telescope, of their atmosphere, if those planets are habitable,” Nelson said.  

 

Webb telescope and crew 1

 

The telescope — conceived as the successor to the still-operational Hubble — “has capabilities that far surpass my most optimistic dreams,” Garth Illingworth, an astronomer at the University of California at Santa Cruz who in the late 1980s was instrumental in developing plans for an infrared space telescope, wrote in an email to fellow astronomers Monday. “The capabilities of Webb are truly out of this world.”

 

 telescope flying on pink vehicle 1

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope will Open a New Window on the Cosmos

 If Everything Goes Just Right

 

The initial deep look into the universe by the Webb is just a taste of what is to come, said planetary astronomer Heidi Hammel, who is among the scientists scheduled to use the Webb in coming months. Hammel described the initial deep look unveiled Monday as “proof of concept ... whetting our appetite for the record-breaking results we now know will come from this exceptional facility.” Regardless of whatever wow factor is generated by the new images, the significant fact is that the Webb works. This was never a slam-dunk mission. The telescope was repeatedly delayed, and its price tag soared. At one point, Congress nearly killed the project. For many years, it was unclear whether the Webb would get off the ground, literally.

 

 technicians lift the mirror of the Webb Space Telescope in April 2017

Using a Crane, Technicians Lift the Mirror of the Webb Space Telescope at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., in April 2017

 

The ambitious scientific goals set out by NASA and its partners required a revolutionary design. The scientists who in the 1980s began advocating what was originally called the Next Generation Space Telescope argued that an infrared space observatory would be able to peer deeper into the universe — and further back in time, to an era roughly a few hundred million years after the big bang. That’s when the first stars ignited and starlight flooded the young universe.

 

 released images

 

The telescope — or the “observatory,” as scientists often call it — features 18 gold-plated, hexagonal, individually maneuverable mirrors that function like a single mirror about 21 feet across. This giant light bucket is not inside a protective tube but rather is open to the universe like a flower. The mirrors, cameras and other instruments that need to be kept ultracold for infrared astronomy are protected from the sun’s radiation by a five-layered, tennis-court-sized sun shield. The sun shield and many other components, including the mirrors, were folded up at launch and had to be deployed during the telescope’s nearly month-long journey to its orbital post.

 clear eye on the heavens telescope Webb 2

A Cold, Clear Eye on the Heavens

 

The James Webb Space Telescope observes in the infrared portion of the spectrum, which requires the mirrors, cameras and other instruments to remain at extremely cold temperatures — not far above absolute zero. As a result, the telescope requires a massive sun shield to protect against solar radiation.

 

Seeing Universe through a broader spectrum 1

 

Seeing the Universe Through a Broader Spectrum:  Peering into space with just our eyes shows us the optical portion of the electromagnetic spectrum – a fraction of the energy in the universe, often obscured by interstellar dust and gases. The James Webb telescope’s ability to see far into the infrared spectrum will afford scientists a clearer view into the deep cosmos than has been possible before. One report found 344 separate things that could go wrong — “single point failures” — and potentially derail the entire project. The telescope is not designed to be fixed if something goes seriously awry. The instruments are not modular and cannot be swapped out if they break. Unlike the Hubble, the Webb is too far away to be visited by astronauts. But none of those single point failures happened. The Webb has surpassed astronomer’s scientific expectations, despite getting dinged recently by a micrometeoroid that put one of the mirror segments slightly out of whack. “This telescope is one of humanity’s great engineering achievements,” Vice President Harris said Monday at the unveiling. The Webb will study the formation of the earliest galaxies and the evolution of the universe as it has expanded. And it will look at objects that are in our own solar system, including small, icy worlds beyond the orbit of Neptune.

 

Telescope crew adjusting mirror 1 2

 

NASArecentlu identified the five initial “targets” of the Webb:  Wasp-96 b: This is a giant planet, maybe half the size of Jupiter, that circles a star 1,150 light-years from Earth. The planet is too close to the brilliant star to be resolved as an individual object, but an instrument on the telescope has obtained the spectra of the planet, a scientifically important feat because it can reveal the composition of the planet’s atmosphere.Southern Ring Nebula: Located about 2,000 light-years away, the nebula is a gas cloud surrounding a dying star.Carina Nebula: The nebula is packed with stars, including the ultraluminous star system Eta Carinae. Situated roughly 7,500 light-years from Earth, within our own Milky Way galaxy, the nebula is visible from the Southern Hemisphere.Stephan’s Quintet: Five beguiling galaxies, four of them in a cluster about 290 million light-years away, in the constellation Pegasus. The quintet has been previously observed by the Hubble, and the new image will allow a side-by-side comparison of what the two space telescopes see as they gather light in different wavelengths.SMACS 0723: The deepest look. The galaxies in the cluster operate as a gravitational lens and, according to NASA, “magnify and distort the light of objects behind them, permitting a deep field view into both the extremely distant and intrinsically faint galaxy populations.”

 

WEB Telescope showing birth of stars

New Image from Webb Telescope Shows where Stars are Born

 

 

RELATED:  THE JAMES WEBB TELESCOPE

 

James Webb

James Webb Led NASA During the 1960s, When it was Gearing Up to Land People on the Moon -  He Was a Staunch Champion of Space Science

 

old vs new 

 

The beauty of the first pictures to emerge from the James Webb Space Telescope is breathtaking. And when you reflect on what you’re actually looking at, the pictures are mind-boggling, too. A lot of creativity and art goes into crafting those images. For very good scientific reasons, the Webb telescope is designed to work mainly with infrared radiation, which gives a picture that complements visible light, illuminating different features. To see the distant past of the universe and catch galaxies in their youth, this is how to look. Light from those sources has been stretched by the universe’s expansion into the infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum. To view it, you need to go into space and avoid the infrared glare of closer warm bodies.

 

 

To bridge the human sensory gap, astronomer-artists assign visible, false colors to the different sorts of infrared light:     There is a mismatch between the exquisitely detailed infrared images the Webb scope produces and what human eyes can perceive. We ordinarily feel infrared radiation as heat but don’t see it. (Pythons and vampire bats do, using it to home in on the heat generated by their prey.) To bridge the human sensory gap, astronomer-artists assign visible, false colors to the different sorts of infrared light. The result both caters to our natural vision and transcends it. There is a scientific purpose to that exercise; humans have powers of visual pattern recognition that computers can’t yet match. There’s also, of course, a cultural purpose—to make the hidden beauty of the universe more accessible.

 

Screen Shot 2022 07 30 at 9.00.25 AM 1

 

For scientists and hard-core science fans, though, the point is not the processed images but the underlying information. That information, detailed and quantitative, is nourishing food for thought, both for computers and for the more analytical parts of human brains. The scientific program of Webb will address many questions, probably including new ones that its own observations will pose. Personally, I’m especially interested in two “sure things” and two related long shots.

 

Screen Shot 2022 07 30 at 9.01.48 AM 1

 

Presently, two different ways of measuring the age of the universe don’t quite agree. Methods based on studying signals from the very early universe (specifically, cosmic microwave background radiation) give a larger value than methods based on studying signals from the relatively recent universe (specifically, distant galaxies and supernovae). The discrepancy, known as the “Hubble tension,” is about 10%—not enormous but larger than the claimed precision of the measurements. Webb observations should significantly firm up—or modify—the recent-universe result, which involves more complicated data analysis.

 

A Futuristic Short Film : "Telescope" - by The Telescope Team 

 

Watch this fantastic futuristic short film directed by talented Collin Davis and Matt Litwiller, written by Eric Bodge and shot by Travis Labella! The year is 2183. Earth is dead. With all evidence of organic life lost, a cosmic archaeologist travels faster than light into deep space to capture images of the once vibrant planet. When his vessel is damaged he must take matters into his own hands, risking his life to witness humanity"s lost home.

 

infrared imaging

 

Webb’s infrared imaging also will open a new window on other (relatively) cold, dim astronomical objects. Especially interesting is the possibility of studying the atmospheres of planets outside our solar system: exoplanets. Webb will surely identify lots of new ones, including small Earthlike planets that so far have been elusive. Life on Earth has drastically changed its atmosphere, mainly through photosynthesis, in ways that ordinary chemistry might find hard to mimic. Unusual exoplanet atmospheres might hint at distant life.

 

rendering of Webb images 1

 

Those are pretty sure bets. Here are two intriguing long shots:

 

First: If the Hubble tension gets firmed up, it could indicate that there was more “dark energy”—a substance thought to accelerate the universe’s expansion—in the early universe than today. That is contrary to existing theory, but I wouldn’t bet against it heavily. It would inject some welcome (dark) energy into fundamental physics.

 

Second: Notoriously, human technology is beginning to alter Earth’s atmosphere significantly. Big projects can involve big flows of energy and matter, so plausibly someday human engineering will alter the solar system in ways that a Webb-like instrument could detect from afar. Wouldn’t it be poetic for our own restless intelligence to unearth signs of restless intelligence elsewhere?