The James Webb Space Telescope was more than a decade in construction. When it finally launched back on Christmas Day, the massive and complex structure faced what NASA called “344 points of failure” on its way to its new home at Lagrange Point 2 (L2), roughly 1,500,000 kilometers (930,000 miles) from Earth.
Day by day, week by week, the telescope didn’t just pass those points of potential failure, it passed with flying colors. Even before the telescope was fully deployed, engineers at NASA, the Canadian Space Agency, and European Space Agency were talking about how the instruments were actually exceeding what were already very high expectations.
For astronomers—and for everyone interested in the universe we live in—waiting for the first official images from Webb has been like waiting to open a present that has been out there traveling since Christmas. Today is that day. Come and see what NASAnta brought you.
President Joe Biden released the first Webb image on Monday evening, showing a deep field image studded with galaxies.
One thing you might notice is that some of the galaxies above seem to be stretched out. Some even show up twice. That’s because the image is being distorted, not by any issue with Webb’s instruments, but by the gravity of the many galaxies lying between Earth and these incredibly distant objects.
Join in and watch as NASA, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency, and all the people behind this project gift the world with not just knowledge, but heart-stopping beauty.
For anyone who remembers the Hubble Telescope image of “the pillars of creation” in the Eagle Nebula (which, hey, we talked about just this weekend on Daily Space), this is yet another of the “star nurseries” where stellar systems like our own get started.
The “Cosmic Cliffs” are part of the Carina Nebula (NGC 3324). In visible light telescopes, most of the detail here is completely lost, but Webb’s infrared instruments let it peer through the gas and dust to see the young stars illuminating the nebula.
All of the images seen here have just a fraction of the detail revealed by the full-sized, uncompressed originals. All of which are available here.
Compared to some of the other images released today, this chart may seem kind of … blah. But in a lot of ways this is the most exciting thing released today by the Webb team.
This is Webb’s instruments looking at an exoplanet orbiting a star 1,150 light years away, and telling us about the atmosphere of that individual planet. WASP 96-b is a gas giant, slightly larger (though less massive) than Jupiter. It orbits close to its star, making it much hotter than any of the planets in our own system.
On June 21, Webb turned both its Near-Infrared Imager and spectrograph on the WASP-96 system for 6.4 hours, watching as the planet transited across the face of the star. From that data it produced a curve that shows the components of the planet’s atmosphere. That atmosphere turns out to include water … well, steam, considering how beyond-boiling hot this place is.
But this is just a sampler of many planetary observations to come.
To give some idea of how much detail is in the full sized images, here’s another look at just a small portion of the Southern Ring Nebula, featured in the image at the top of the article.