In a few days, researchers will publish an image of the universe that has never been seen before, displaying some of the universe’s oldest stars and galaxies.
The shot is one of 10 to 20 that will be released on July 12 by the James Webb Space Telescope, the most important observatory in the sky, according to a news conference held by NASA on Wednesday. The new images, according to the few scientists who have seen a sneak preview, have caused profound existential experiences and brought some of them to tears.
The abrupt release of some of nature’s secrets is “an emotional event,” according to Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science missions at NASA. “It is not a picture. It’s a fresh point of view.”
On Christmas morning almost six months ago, the telescope was launched from Earth and is currently orbiting the sun at a distance of about 900,000 miles. The telescope is expected to operate for a very long time, according to NASA deputy administrator Pam Melroy, a former astronaut. It has enough fuel on board to support research for the next 20 years.
The infrared telescope’s unparalleled sharpness and clarity have already been demonstrated in test images taken during telescope alignment. The next photographs, however, will be the first in full color and will also highlight Webb’s scientific abilities.
On July 12, at 10:30 a.m. ET, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland will host a live broadcast of the images and scientific data. Live coverage is available to the public via NASA TV and the organization’s website.
This complicated device has four scientific equipment, so taking images with it is very different from simply pointing a smartphone at the sky and pressing a button. A final image only appears after several weeks of processing mountains of data.
“When the statistics are written down, they don’t resemble a stunning color visual at all. They barely resemble anything at all, “said Webb project scientist Klaus Pontoppidan of the Space Telescope Science Institute. “You can only appreciate them when you are an expert and know what to look for.”
The first exoplanet spectra, or study of a planet’s atmosphere using the telescope, will be presented, according to NASA officials. Astronomers have access to comprehensive information thanks to the light data.
The European Space Agency, Canadian Space Agency, and NASA are working together on the Webb mission, which will study some of the oldest, weakest light in the cosmos. When many of the initial stars and galaxies were born, fewer than 300 million years after the Big Bang, this time period will be studied by the huge telescope. It will also be used by scientists to look inside the atmospheres of other planets. Findings of essential elements for life, such water and methane, could indicate a potential for habitability or biological activity.
According to astronomers, Webb will usher in a golden era for cosmological comprehension. The telescope’s first batch of cosmic picture targets were chosen to display it at its best without jeopardizing some of the planned observations for later in the year.
However, NASA refuses to comment on what else might be in store. Here is what we currently know.
The “deepest” photo yet—what does that mean?
The Hubble Space Telescope’s Ultra Deep Field survey, taken nearly 20 years ago, must be surpassed if the Webb image is to travel deeper than anything humans have hitherto seen. Nearly 10,000 galaxies in all different ages, sizes, forms, and colors may be seen in the iconic, panoramic photograph.
Because light and other types of radiation take longer to reach us, astronomers who look farther can observe the past. The earliest galaxies that can be seen in Hubble’s deep field date from the first 800 million years following the Big Bang. In comparison to the universe’s estimated age of 13.8 billion years, that time frame is incredibly young.
However, Webb was created to see even further back in time. Its primary mirror is much larger than Hubble’s, measuring 21 feet in diameter as opposed to just under 8 feet, and it uses infrared wavelengths to detect invisible light. In summary, there is a lot of dust and gas in space that blocks our view of really far-off, naturally faint light sources, yet infrared radiation can get through the clouds. According to a Webb scientist, the telescope is so sensitive that it may pick up a bumblebee’s heat on the moon.
According to Eric Smith, the program scientist for Webb, “the initial ambition for this project was to observe the first stars and galaxies, not the first light of the cosmos, but to see the universe turn the lights on for the first time.”
Exoplanets’ atmospheres act as filters for the star’s light when those planets pass in front of it. Credit: M. Kornmesser (ESA/Hubble), NASA, ESA, and STScI.