Six months have passed since a European rocket placed the James Webb Space Telescope in orbit. Since that time, the ultra-complex telescope has successfully revealed its wide sunshield, turned on its science instruments, and reached an observation point hundreds of thousands of kilometers from Earth.
This white-thumb period in space followed nearly two decades of effort to design, build and test the telescope on Earth before its launch on Christmas Day, 2021. But now, all that effort is in the rearview mirror, and Webb’s massive 6.5-meter diameter mirror is looking outward and collecting scientific data and images. It is the largest and most powerful telescope man has ever placed in space, and it is already revealing new insights about our universe.
“The pictures are being taken right now,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, who leads NASA’s scientific programs during a news conference on Wednesday. “There’s already some amazing science in Cain, and some others still to be taken in as we move forward. We’re in the middle of getting down to history-making data.”
NASA said it plans to release multiple images starting at 10:30 a.m. ET (14:30 UTC) on July 12, the result of Webb’s “first light” observations. On Wednesday, space agency officials said the images and other data would include the deepest-field image ever taken of the universe — that of humans looking further into the universe than humans — as well as the surroundings of an exoplanet. the spectrum of the atmosphere. Looking in the infrared, Webb will be able to identify the fingerprints of small molecules such as carbon dioxide and ozone, which will provide meaningful clues about the habitability of worlds around other stars.
NASA’s deputy administrator, Pam Melroy, said she was stunned by the pictures Webb had made so far. “What I have seen has impressed me as a scientist, as an engineer and as a human being,” she said.
Binoculars are healthy. Thanks to a precise launch by the European Space Agency’s Ariane 5 rocket, Webb should have enough maneuverable propellant for 20 years of life. And although there have already been five micrometeoroid impacts, the telescope was designed to account for these tiny dings with a much larger margin.
Recalling his first encounter with data from Webb, Zurbuchen said he was also amazed at what the telescope had proved capable of. He said that he almost cried seeing the first pictures taken by the new device.
“It’s really hard not to see the universe in a new light and not just have a moment that is deeply personal,” he said. “It’s an emotional moment when you see nature suddenly releasing some of its secrets. And I would like you to imagine it and look forward to it.”
What a tease!
Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait almost a full two weeks to see the final products from the web’s first comments. NASA said that it would not release any images soon, even on the basis of the ban. But we’ve waited 20 years for Webb to come online and offer a truly worthy successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. I guess we can wait a little longer.
If we need