James Webb is Open for Science! See The First Images From The Fully Operational JWST
by Jessica Hall
Finally, the suspense is over. The James Webb Space Telescope is open for science! Today, in a massive joint conference with the ESA and CSA, NASA released the first science images from the fully operational JWST. Mission scientists chose these beauty shots as an ideal showcase of Webb’s tools and talents.
So, without further ado:
“Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.” -Douglas Adams, The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
The first image, an ultra-deep-field snapshot of the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723, was presented by Jane Rigby of NASA’s Goddard Space Center. NASA officials revealed this very first inaugural image from the fully operational telescope to President Biden last night.
Looking into the deep sky means looking back in time. And this is a deep dive indeed. In this image, we see the universe as it was, more than thirteen billion years ago. Distant galaxies become streaks and arcs across the sky, distorted by gravitational lensing.
But the image making headlines is only half the story. At left is what MIRI (Webb’s middle-infrared camera) sees; at right, NIRCam’s view of the same patch of sky. Notice the vivid reds and blues in the left-hand image. These celestial features shine in wavelengths of light too long for NIRCam to see. MIRI, however, can see them just fine.
The galaxies in this image appear as they were at about the same time that the Sun and our Earth formed. “There are galaxies here in which we’re seeing individual clusters of stars forming, popping up just like popcorn,” said Jane Rigby in this morning’s briefing. “And in the background, littered like jewels, are these…