Astronomers are eagerly awaiting the first images from the James Webb Space Telescope

President Biden will unveil the first color image from the James Webb Space Telescope in the White House on Monday, announcing the end of testing and check-out and the beginning of scientific operations of the world’s most powerful space observatory.

“We are going to give humanity a new view of the cosmos, and it is a view we have never seen before,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, who will join Biden in the White House, told reporters in a preview.

“One of these images … is the deepest image of our universe ever taken,” he said. “And we’re just beginning to understand what Webb can and wants to do.”

An artist’s impression of the James Webb Space Telescope.


NASA plans to release more “first light” images on Tuesday, images designed to demonstrate Web’s ability to capture light from the first generation of stars and galaxies; to map the details of stellar evolution, from star birth to death of supernovae; and to study the chemical composition of exoplanet atmospheres.

In the last 30 years, the Hubble Space Telescope has become one of the most iconic instruments in astronomical history, astronomers help determine the age of the universe, confirm the presence of supermassive black holes, capture the deepest views of the cosmos ever collected, and provide fly-by-class images of planets in the Earth’s solar system.

But Webb, which operates at just a few degrees above absolute zero behind a tennis court-sized sunshade, promises to push the boundaries of human knowledge even deeper with a 21.3-foot-wide segmented primary mirror capable of detecting the faint, expansive infrared mirrored. light from the time when the stars began to “turn on” in the wake of the Big Bang.

Launched on Christmas DayWebb is stationed in one gravity stable orbit almost 1 million miles from Earth. For the past six months, engineers and researchers have been working through a complex series of deployments, activations and checks, fine-tuning the telescope’s focus and optimizing the performance of the four scientific instruments.

The first images released Monday and Tuesday, selected by an international team of astronomers, will “demonstrate to the world that Webb is indeed ready for science, and that it is producing excellent and spectacular results,” said Klaus Pontoppidan, Webb project researcher at Space Telescope Science Institute.

“And it’s also to highlight the breadth, the sheer breadth of science that can be done with Webb, and to highlight all four scientific instruments,” he added. “And last but not least, to celebrate the beginning of normal scientific operations.”

The goals for Web’s first public photos include:

  • Carina Nebula: A large star-forming region in the constellation Carina about 7,600 light-years from Earth that is four times the size of the Orion Nebula. The Carina Nebula is home to the brightest known star in the Milky Way, as well as the Eta Carinae binary system, which includes a massive sun that is expected to explode in a supernova explosion in the near future (astronomically speaking).
The Carina Nebula, a huge star nursery with big young stars in several clusters and debris from supernova explosions, seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. Web’s infrared view is expected to look into the dusty clouds to reveal infant suns about to be born.

Maicon Germiniani

  • Southern Ring Nebula: An expanding gas cloud half a light-year across that was ejected from a dying star. Stars with relatively low masses like the Earth’s sun will end life by blowing off their outer layers, forming so-called “planetary nebulae” as their nuclei shrink and slowly cool.
  • Stephen’s Quintet: A collection of five galaxies in the constellation Pegasus 290 million light-years from Earth discovered in 1877, the first such compact grouping of galaxies to be discovered. Four of the five galaxies interact gravitationally in a slow-moving fusion.
A Hubble image of Stephen’s Quintet, a group of five large galaxies in the constellation Pegasus. Four of the galaxies interact gravitationally, while the fifth, bottom left, is not involved.

NASA, ESA, Hubble Legacy Archive

  • WASP-96b: An unusually cloudless exoplanet 1150 light-years away that is about half the size of Jupiter, orbiting the sun every 3.4 days. By spectroscopically analyzing light from the parent star as it passes through the exoplanet’s atmosphere on its way to Earth, astronomers can tease out details about its chemical composition.
  • SMACS J0723.3-7327: The combined gravity of countless stars in huge galaxy clusters like this can act as a powerful lens if the alignment is just right, magnifying the light from distant objects in the distant background to provide a deeper look across space and time than would otherwise be possible.

“The first images will include observations spanning the spectrum of Web science topics,” said Pontoppidan. “From the early universe, the deepest infrared view of the cosmos to date. We will also see an example of how galaxies interact and grow, and how these catastrophic collisions between galaxies drive the process of star formation.

“We will see a few examples from the life cycle of the stars, from the birth of the stars, where Webb can reveal new, young stars emerging from their birth cloud of gas and dust, to star death, as a dying star frogs the galaxy with new elements and new dust that could one day become part of new planetary systems. “

Last but not least, he said, the team will show off the first chemical fingerprints from the atmosphere of an exoplanet.

One of the Hubble Space Telescope’s most astonishing images was its first “deep field” view of a small spot with seemingly empty skies over a 10-day period in 1995. To the astonishment of both professionals and audiences, the long-exposed image revealed more than 3,000 galaxies of any shape, size and age, some of them the oldest and most distant ever seen.

The original Hubble Deep Field revealed more than 3,000 galaxies in a small, seemingly empty space. The James Webb Space Telescope is expected to push far past Hubble in search of the first stars and galaxies formed after the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago.


Subsequent deep Hubble fields pushed even further back in time, discovering the dim light from galaxies that shone within about 500 million years after the Big Bang. How stars formed and were organized so rapidly in galactic structures remains a mystery, as is the evolution of the supermassive black holes in their nuclei.

Webb’s four instruments are expected to push the boundaries even closer to the beginning of galaxy formation. A test image from the telescope’s Canadian-built Fine Guidance Sensor, an image that was not optimized for the detection of extremely weak objects, nevertheless revealed thousands of galaxies.

Webb’s look at SMACS 0723 is expected to demonstrate the enormous reach of the observatory.

“This is really just the beginning, we are just scratching the surface,” said Pontoppidan. “We have in the first pictures, a few days worth of observations. Looking forward, we have many years of observation, so we can only imagine what it will be.”