How NASA Releases the First James Webb Space Telescope Images

When the James Webb Space Telescope launched on Christmas Day last year we were in a flurry of conflicting emotions. Awe mixed with bewilderment at what is to come. Elegance struggled with suspense over whether the $10 billion machine would reach its destination. Relief fused with expectation.

After celebrating a long-awaited launch, the world patiently waited several months for word from JWST. And we’re almost on the other side.

Put it in your calendar — on June 12th NASA will release the first full-fledged images from the gold-plated exoplanet-hunting, stardust-penetrating, black-hole-searching James Webb Space Telescope.

Read on to learn more about how to tune in.

One of JWST's scientists is reflected in the telescope's mirrors.

Project scientist Mark Clampin is reflected in the flight mirrors at the Marshall Space Flight Center during the construction of JWST.

Ball space travel

How to catch the first JWST images

The JWST team will hold a main event on Tuesday, July 12 at 7:30 a.m. PT to reveal the telescope’s images in real time. You can watch it on NASA TVseen below.

Here is that time all over the world.

  • US: 7:30 a.m. PT / 10:30 a.m. ET
  • Brazil: 11:30 AM (Federal District)
  • UK: 3.30pm
  • South Africa: 4:30 PM
  • Russia: 5:30 PM (Moscow)
  • UAE: 6:30 PM
  • India: 8:00 PM
  • China: 10:30 PM
  • Japan: 11:30 PM
  • Australia: July 13, 1:30 AM AEDT

Be sure to check out CNET Highlights, our YouTube channel, for all the big moments.

Can I take a private tour of JWST’s first images?

yep. If you’re not a big fan of live reveals and prefer to record it all without pomp and circumstance, NASA will also include JWST’s first full-color images and spectral data here online. Adding to the drama, the agency says these photos will be released “one by one.”

Tip of our seat, indeed.

NASA also recommends following its Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts to capture some of the discussion.

In addition, you can say hello to your new screensaver, wallpaper, home decor and personalized coffee mugs by download high-resolution versions of scientific discoveries from JWST and other additional content.

What can we expect from the first images of JWST?

By now you may have seen a few preliminary JWST photos. I know I’ve been thinking about them for quite some time. But it’s not exactly the ‘first images’ of the scope.

Basically, NASA has to go through a total of 17 test modes, which can be considered checkpoints, before starting the telescope. And as the agency works its way through the framing, we’re blessed with a ton of luminous, red-orange peeps into JWST’s final vision.

A collection of different constellations from different instruments on the James Webb telescope

In this collage you can see a picture of all of Webb’s major instruments.

NASA/STScI

However, these are pretty much the products of calibrating all of the telescope’s instruments — about which you can read more here — not the definitive, long-awaited conglomerate images scientists call JWST’s “first light.”

But at a news conference held Wednesday, NASA members who had already glimpsed JWST’s true first light said they were absolutely blown away and moved to tears† “What I’ve seen has moved me, as a scientist, as an engineer and as a human being,” said Pam Melroy, NASA’s deputy administrator.

In general, I would say that scientists are so fascinated by JWST simply because we do not know what to expect. That’s kind of the point. This telescope is often referred to as “groundbreaking” and “groundbreaking” because it was built to find things in the universe that we may have never thought existed and to answer questions about the evolution of time that we didn’t know existed. that had to set.

A 3D rendering of what James Webb looks like in space, fully deployed.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab

That’s all because JWST works very differently from other high-tech telescopes, including Hubble. It uses what is known as infrared imaging to show us a part of the universe that we can’t see with our naked eye — and even Hubble can’t see with its ultra-powerful lens.

What you need to know about infrared imaging

In a nutshell, JWST’s infrared imaging instruments work together to detect light coming from a region of the electromagnetic spectrum invisible to human eyes — the infrared region. This part of the spectrum is vital for charting the timeline of our universe, but was missing from previous observations.

As stars and galaxies move further and further away from us, the wavelengths of light they emit constantly stretch like a rubber band being pulled. Eventually, they are stretched to reach the infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum. And because the universe is constantly expanding, the oldest, rarest, probably most valuable stars — and things illuminated by those stars — only appear to us as infrared light.

So we can’t to see those super distant, really old cosmic bodies with our eyes — or even a regular telescope lens, for that matter — even as we squint until our faces hurt and hope until our faith starts to wane.

A diagram of the electromagnetic spectrum, showing which regions Hubble and Webb can see.

This infographic illustrates the spectrum of electromagnetic energy, highlighting in particular the portions detected by NASA’s Hubble, Spitzer and Webb space telescopes.

NASA and J. Olmsted [STScI]

However, when JWST looks at the sky, it can show us all that infrared goodness. It will illuminate for us all the stars, galaxies, quasars, black holes and maybe even exoplanets that are ready to contain life that we cannot see. You can read more about the infrared mechanism here — but really think of it as the difference between looking up at the stars from a light-saturated New York City, and then again from a dark valley in the woods.

Amid the dense foliage, you would see much more sparkle, even if it is the same sky. You just view it unfiltered by light pollution. JWST takes this to the next level… times a million. It is armed to show us an unfiltered universe.

Hubble has a few infrared detection capabilities, but not nearly as much as JWST. Other space probes, such as the 1989 Cosmic Background Explorer have technically studied a greater distance in the universe than JWST will — but JWST “is designed not to see the beginning of the universe, but to see a period in the history of the universe that we have not yet seen John Mather, senior project scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope, said.

Two Views of the Monkey's Head Nebula

A comparison of Hubble’s visible and infrared views of the Monkey Head Nebula. While Hubble has some infrared capabilities, it’s nothing compared to Webb.

NASA and ESA

Perhaps understanding that missing piece of the cosmic puzzle could help us know if we got the story of the Big Bang correct, how far the universe really stretches, and maybe one day even show us if there is life. Or prove to us that we are alone.

The possibilities are endless, but they’ll start to wash out on July 12. Until that time, here’s NASA’s JWST first light countdown

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