Rae PaolettaJul 12, 2022

See JWST's amazing first science images

The wait is finally over.

After roughly seven months of commissioning, today, July 12, 2022, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) revealed its stunning first science images of the Carina Nebule, WASP-96 b (spectrum), Southern Ring Nebula, and Stephan’s Quintet.

The successor to NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is officially on its way to becoming a powerful exoplanet investigator. These images mark a crucial and exciting step in JWST’s mission to explore distant galaxies, study the early universe, examine the birth of stars and planetary systems, and investigate the origins of life.

“The JWST instrument teams report that this telescope is working even better than our requirements, so we know we are going to have fabulous science," said Heidi Hammel, Vice President for Science at AURA and Vice President of The Planetary Society's Board of Directors.

JWST Carina Nebula
JWST Carina Nebula The James Webb Space Telescope's Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) captured this stunning view of the Carina Nebula, located about 7,500 light-years from Earth. Nicknamed the "cosmic cliffs," it is essentially a nursery for young stars, some of them several times larger than our own Sun.Image: NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI
JWST spectrum of WASP-96 b
JWST spectrum of WASP-96 b This spectrum is made from observations by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, which analyzed the atmospheric composition of a distant exoplanet called WASP-96 b. JWST detected signatures of water and haze in the gas giant's atmosphere.Image: NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI
JWST Southern Ring Nebula
JWST Southern Ring Nebula The Southern Ring or “Eight-Burst” nebula is a planetary nebula located about 2,000 light-years from Earth. These side-by-side images show a star's death; gas emanating from a dying star. Both images were taken by NASA's JWST in near-infrared light (left) and mid-infrared light (right).Image: NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI
JWST Stephan’s Quintet
JWST Stephan’s Quintet Stephan’s Quintet is the name given to a visual grouping of five galaxies located about 290 million light-years away in the constellation Pegasus. NASA's JWST was able to show shock waves, tidal tails, and more astonishing details about these distant galaxies. Four of the five galaxies in Stephan's Quintet regularly interact with each other, creating the stunning display we see here.Image: NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI

This latest selection of images comes just one day after U.S. President Joe Biden revealed the first deep field image from JWST, which shows a stunning array of galaxy clusters, some older than 13 billion years.

JWST's First Deep Field Image
JWST's First Deep Field Image JWST's first science image was released a day early, on July 11, 2022, in an address by the President of the United States, Joe Biden. This deep field image is the highest-resolution and deepest infrared view of our Universe taken to date. The light from these galaxies is gravitationally lensed by the mass of the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 in the foreground. It causes their light to be warped into beautiful arcs. This image shows SMACS 0723 as it was 4.6 billion years ago, but the background galaxies are much further away. The furthest light in this image has taken over 13 billion years to reach us. This image represents a part of the sky that's so small that it could fit behind a grain of sand on the tip of your finger held at arm's length.Image: NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI

Developing JWST took scientists and engineers almost 25 years. Budget issues and other delays made the telescope’s launch date unpredictable, but ultimately, it launched on December 25, 2021 from the European Space Agency (ESA)’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana aboard an Ariane 5 rocket.

The nail-biting work didn’t end once JWST was off Earth. It took about eight days to fully unfurl the telescope’s tennis court-sized sunshield, which protects the JWST’s science instruments from the light and heat of the Sun, Earth, and Moon. After about a month, the space observatory reached its final destination at the second Sun-Earth Lagrange point (L2). L2 is a location in space where the Earth and Sun’s gravity balance, which allows the telescope to orbit L2 using very little fuel and keep the Sun, Earth, and Moon at its back.

Once at L2, JWST got right to work calibrating its hexagonal mirrors. NASA released some of these first images, including an initial aligning mosaic — 18 images of the same star — and a selfie of the telescope’s primary mirror segments. The mirror alignment process was a critical step so that JWST could begin its main science mission.

JWST’s near-infrared camera (NIRCam) serves as its main imager. It’ll gaze into the heart of various star systems and nascent galaxies, examining objects up to 13.6 billion light-years away.

Today’s images are more than a tick in the timeline of space exploration. They’re an essential part of our journey to understand the Cosmos and our place within it. We can’t wait to see more.

“Given how fantastically well the telescope is working, the science is surely going to knock our socks off," said Hammel.

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