We’re now just five days away from the public release of the first science images from the James Webb Space Telescope, and anticipation is running high. After more than two decades and over $10 billion, it’s time for the web to pay off.
There are early signs that this will happen.
On Wednesday evening NASA released a “test” image from the telescope that suggests the scientific images and data to come will be spectacular. The release of the test photo, which NASA casually calls “one of the deepest images the universe has ever seen,” almost feels like a flex because it’s too cool for a throw-away engineering image.
The space agency collected the image during a week-long stability test in late May aimed at demonstrating the capabilities of the telescope’s fine guidance sensor. The instrument helps Webb find and lock down celestial targets, and was built by the Canadian Space Agency.
“It has some rough-and-tumble properties in the resulting engineering test image,” NASA said in a news release. “It was not optimized for science observation; rather, the data was taken to test how well the telescope could stay close to the target, but it hinted at the power of the telescope. It included Webb’s ideas.” have produced during post-launch preparations. Bright stars stand out with their six, long, sharply defined diffraction spikes—an effect caused by Webb’s six-sided mirror segments. Beyond the stars, galaxies fills almost the entire background.”
Most of the objects in this image are not stars, but are actually distant galaxies. These are the types of galaxies that astronomers are eager to study, as they will reveal information about the early universe. Because it was intended for engineering tests only, the image does not use the color filters that allow astronomers to estimate the age of the galaxies in the image, but it shows detailed structures in distant galaxies.
By the way, the stability test was successful, and Webb has been collecting data recently with all of its scientific instruments up and working. We will see the fruits of these labors in just five days, starting at 10:30 am ET (14:30 UTC).