The James Webb Space Telescope will release its first high-resolution color images on July 12. One of those images is the deepest picture of our universe ever taken, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said during a news conference on Wednesday. What’s more, this is further than mankind has ever traveled before, Nelson said. And were just beginning to understand what Webb can and will do. It will explore Solar System objects and atmospheres of exoplanets orbiting other stars, giving us clues as to whether their atmospheres might resemble our own.
“Scientists hope this new tool will provide clues, could there be life in space?”
Nelson, who announced he tested positive for Covid-19 Tuesday night, was unable to attend the event in person at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. The Webb mission, estimated to last 10 years, has enough excess fuel capacity to operate for 20 years, according to NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy. Meanwhile, the Webb team is completing the final steps to prepare the observatory and its science data-gathering instruments, which are due for completion next week, said Bill Ochs, NASA’s Webb project manager. The observatory is performing even better than expected, they said the engineers of the mission. And the team continues to develop strategies to avoid micrometeorite impacts, like the one that damaged part of Webbs Mirror in May.
What to Expect
The space observatory, which launched in December, will be able to peer into the atmospheres of exoplanets and observe some of the first galaxies to form after the universe began, observing them through infrared light used for the human eye is invisible. Webb began taking the first pictures a few weeks ago, and some of the pictures shared on July 12 are still being taken. This package of color images will be the result of 120 hours of observation – about five days’ worth of data.
The telescope’s original goal was to see the first stars and galaxies in the universe, essentially observing how the universe first appeared Lights on, said Eric Smith, Webb program scientist and NASA Astrophysics Division chief scientist.
The exact number and type of images has not been shared, but each of them will reveal different aspects of the universe in unprecedented detail and sensitivity, said Klaus Pontoppidan, Webb project scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute. The first release will highlight Webb’s scientific skills as well as the ability of his massive golden mirror and scientific instruments to produce spectacular images.
The images show how galaxies interact and grow, and how the collisions between galaxies drive star formation, as well as examples of the violent stellar life cycle. And we can expect to see the first spectrum of an exoplanet, or how wavelengths of light and different colors reveal properties of other worlds. The Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph Instrument telescopes completed preparations this week. The instrument will be able to use a special prism to scatter light collected from cosmic sources to produce three different rainbows showing hues of more than 2,000 infrared colors from a single observation.
This is especially handy when observing exoplanets to see if they have atmospheres – and picking out atoms and molecules within them when starlight shines through the atmosphere to determine their composition.
The best part is that the Webb team is only at the beginning of the mission and the data collected by the space observatory will be made publicly available so scientists around the world can start a journey of discovery together, Pontoppidan Webb said will allow scientists to make precise measurements of planets, stars and galaxies in ways that have never been possible before, said Susan Mullally, associate Webb project scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute.
Webb can look back in time just after the Big Bang by looking for galaxies so distant that it took light many billions of years to reach us from those galaxies, said Jonathan Gardner, deputy senior project scientist at Webb at NASA.Thomas Zurbuchen, deputy administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, saw some of the first images to be shared on July 12. It’s an emotional moment when you see nature suddenly revealing some of its secrets, Zurbuchen said on Wednesday. It’s really hard not to break records with this telescope.
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