Now that the first set of images is out, you can see detailed snapshots and a graph of space.
It took 30 years and $10 billion to build the James Webb Space Telescope. It has flown over 1.5 million kilometers away from Earth, and now a collection of images gives us our first look at how powerful it is.
NASA has promised to take the deepest picture of our universe ever. These first sets of pictures are just the beginning of a long process of making our view of the universe bigger.
But what can you expect from these images, when and where can you see them this week, and what will they show?
The first pictures sent back by the JWST
One picture came out on its own, which was a big surprise. It came out the night before, and Vice President Joe Biden showed it to the public.
The picture shows SMACS 0723, a group of galaxies that are very far away. This is how it looked 4.6 billion years ago.
This small part of the Universe is about the size of a grain of sand held out at arm’s length by a person standing on Earth.
The big bright white lights all over the picture are stars in our galaxy, which is called the Milky Way. Even though they take up a lot of the picture, the smaller dots in between are more interesting. All of these are galaxies, and the ones with smudged or moved dots are much farther away.
The picture was made by putting together pictures taken at different wavelengths over the course of 12.5 hours. The SMACS 0723 galaxy cluster is so big that it acts as a gravitational lens, making light bend as if it were passing through a physical lens.
In other words, this picture was taken by pointing the JWST, a telescope made by humans, at the view made by a telescope made by nature. This lets us see galaxies that are very far away.
The other pictures in this first group were all taken with the JWST, but this one was a graph that tried to show us something about space. It’s a light graph that shows how WASP-96b’s atmosphere is made up. WASP-96b is a hot giant exoplanet with a mass like Saturn’s.
The planet is about 1,120 light-years away from us. This graph shows that there is water on the planet in the form of vapour, hazes, and signs of clouds.
Based on what this graph shows, the JWST could be used to find planets that might be able to support life.
These beautiful pictures of the Southern Ring Nebula were taken by the JWST. A dying star is at the center of the nebula (seen in the blue section of the image on the left).
This dying star is actively throwing out gas and dust, which is making the orange things that look almost like foam.
The same Southern Ring Nebula is shown in the picture on the right. The picture on the left was taken with an infrared camera, but this one was taken with the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), which helps astronomers see details that were hidden by dust before.
Édouard Stephan first found Stephan’s Quintet in 1877. It is made up of five galaxies that interact with each other and look like they are almost touching. Even though it looks like all the galaxies are the same distance away, one of them (NGC 7320) is only about 40 million light-years away, which is much closer.
About 290 million light-years separate us from the other galaxies. Since these galaxies are so close to each other, scientists can watch them merge and learn more about how galaxies change over time.
Even though this group of galaxies has been seen before, JWST gets a better picture of it. Around the five galaxies, you can see sparkling clusters of millions of stars and starbursts. The picture also shows huge shock waves as one of the galaxies crashes through a cluster.
If you squint, this picture might look like a mountain range at night. This is the edge of a place in the Carina Nebula where new stars are being made. This picture shows places where stars are born that were previously hidden.
People have called it the “cosmic cliffs,” and it’s easy to see why. This is the edge of a gaseous hole that is about 7,600 light-years away. This shape was made by the strong ultraviolet light and stellar winds from supermassive, young, hot stars in the center of the bubble, just above what can be seen in this picture.
Above the orange “mountains” is something that looks like white steam. This is actually hot gas and dust that has been ionized by the intense radiation coming from the nebula.
These observations and pictures of NGC 3324 will help us learn more about how stars are made and where they come from.
When and where will the first pictures be available?
At first, all of the first images were going to come out at the same time, but that has now changed.
Joe Biden will show the first official picture from the James Webb Space Telescope on July 11, 2022, at 10pm BST. This should be the most detailed and deepest infrared picture of the universe ever taken.
The rest of the pictures will be shown at a press conference on July 12, 2022, at 3 p.m. BST.
What will the first set of pictures be about?
The JWST team has now shared the list of objects that its first set of pictures will be aimed at. In these pictures, there will be five places shown:
The Carina Nebula is one of the brightest and largest nebulae in the sky. It is about 7600 light-years away. There are some very big stars in the Carina Nebula. Some of them are much bigger than the Sun.
WASP-96b is a very large planet that is not in our solar system. It is made mostly of gas and is about 1150 light-years away from Earth. Back in 2014, it was found.
Nebula in the southern ring
The Southern Ring Nebula is a growing cloud of gas around a dying star. It is the perfect place to test the infrared images of the James Webb Space Telescope. It is about 2000 light-years from Earth and is almost half a light-year across.
Amazingly, Stephan’s Quintet is 290 million light-years away. It was the first small group of galaxies to be found, in 1877, and the JWST will take the farthest picture of it.
SMACS 0723 is a patch of sky in the southern constellation Volans. In the foreground, there is a huge group of galaxies that acts like a big magnifying glass. This is because their huge weight makes space-time around them bend in a noticeable way, which makes light from faraway objects brighter.
The James Webb Space Telescope is no longer in space
The James Webb Space Telescope is now in L2 Orbit, about 1.5 million km from Earth. This is its final destination. About a month was needed to finish this trip.
With NASA’s “Where is Webb” tool, you can find out where it is. This shows not only how far away the telescope is from Earth, but also how fast it is moving, how hot it is, how long it has been in orbit, and what its next step is.
When did the James Webb Space Telescope take off?
On Christmas Day, 2021, the James Webb Space Telescope was sent into space.
You can watch the launch again on the JWST YouTube channel if you were too busy opening presents and eating Christmas dinner to watch it on TV.
Even though the telescope is now up and running, it took a long time to get to this point. The observatory was supposed to be up and running back in 2007. Since then, it has been delayed more than 16 times, and the pandemic has pushed the date way past the last one, which was March 2021.
The Ariane 5 rocket carried the telescope into space. This is a special kind of rocket made to send satellites and other things into low-Earth orbit or transfer orbit.
Who is James Webb?
You might be wondering who gets the honor of having a telescope with such a long history named after them. Well, that honor goes to James Edwin Webb, who was the second head of NASA and is best known for being in charge of the Apollo program, which was the first one to send people to the Moon.
He also helped with Mercury and Gemini, which were the next two crewed space programs after Apollo. Webb died in 1992 at the age of 85, but he left behind a huge body of work that made him worthy of having a telescope named after him.
“It’s only right that Hubble’s replacement be named after James Webb. “Because of his work, we got our first look at the dramatic landscape of space,” said Sean O’Keefe, who used to run NASA. This is how the observatory got its name. “He led the first exploration trips for our country, bringing our dreams to life.”
The telescope wasn’t always called the James Webb Telescope. It was originally called the Next Generation Space Telescope, which isn’t the most creative name we’ve ever heard.
How big is the space telescope James Webb?
The JWST is the largest space observatory that has ever been built. It is meant to replace the Hubble Space Telescope. Its huge sun shield base is 22 meters by 12 meters, which is about the size of a tennis court.
Hubble is only 13 meters long, but the JWST is only 6,500 kg, which is almost half of what Hubble is.
The gold-plated mirrors on the JWST are much bigger than Hubble’s plate, which is only 2.4m in diameter. In general, the JWST will be able to see about 15 times more than Hubble.
How far away can you see with the James Webb Space Telescope?
The JWST observatory will look at things more than 13.6 billion light-years away with its infrared telescope.
Because it takes light so long to travel across the Universe, this means that the JWST will be looking at things that happened 13.6 billion years ago, or about 100 to 250 million years after the Big Bang. This is the farthest back in time that anyone has ever seen.
Where will the space telescope James Webb orbit?
After being sent into space, the JWST will fly around the Sun at a distance of up to 1.5 million km from Earth, where temperatures can reach -223°C.
The Moon is 384,400 kilometers away, while the Hubble Space Telescope is only 570 kilometers above Earth. Since the JWST will be so far from Earth, astronauts won’t be able to fix it if something goes wrong.
What is the job of the James Webb Space Telescope?
Since NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) worked together to make the JWST, it has many mission goals.
These things are:
- Look at the first light in the Universe and the first stars and planets that formed soon after the Big Bang.
- Find out how galaxies start and change over time.
- Learn more about the atmospheres of faraway exoplanets.
- Take pictures of the planets that are in our solar system.
- Find proof that dark matter exists.
- After its launch, the JWST will likely work for five years. NASA hopes that the observatory will last longer than 10 years, though.
The observatory won’t be able to work forever, though. Even though it is mostly powered by the sun, the JWST needs a small amount of fuel to keep its orbit and instruments working.
What’s different about the James Webb Space Telescope from the Hubble?
Many people see the James Webb as a better version of the Hubble telescope, which was launched in 1990. But are these two telescopes alike or are they very different?
First, the way each telescope sees light is different from the other. Visible and ultraviolet light are what the Hubble is most interested in. It can look at a very small part of the infrared spectrum, but not even close to what the JWST can do.
The JWST is made to look at the infrared spectrum in particular. It can’t see ultraviolet light like Hubble, but it will be able to zoom in on bright things like galaxies that are very far away.
The big sunshield on the James Webb Telescope makes it much bigger than the Hubble. This is used on all space telescopes, but the James Webb’s infrared cameras make it especially important. If it isn’t kept cool, it might not be able to see the lights of things it is trying to study.
The distance between the two satellites is another important difference between them. The Hubble telescope was in orbit above the Earth’s atmosphere, but it was close enough that it could be fixed if it broke.
On the other hand, the JWST will be a long way away, about 1.5 million km away. No person has ever gone that far, and no one will ever go there to fix the satellite if something goes wrong.
This far away is because of a few things. It will be in a place where the Sun’s and Earth’s gravity work together to keep the satellite in place. It will also be far away from the Earth’s reflected radiation, which will help keep it cool.