Yesterday, the very first full-color image from the James Webb Space Telescope was released during an event at the White House. Now, the full set of initial images has been released, with the next generation observatory looking back in time at five different cosmic targets.
The James Webb Space Telescope is a massive collaborative project between NASA, the ESA, and the CSA. After decades of work, the observatory was ready for launch, and did so on Christmas of last year. That then began a months long commissioning process. The telescope needed time to get to its final location, Lagrange point 2, and then time for the main mirror and instruments to cool down.
The 18 different mirror segments also needed to be aligned and focused. The very first calibration image showed 18 smudgy versions of one star. These needed to be aligned, stacked, and focused. By late February, the images were stacked, but the teams still had to work on fine phasing to get a single, focused image.
The teams have come a long way since then, with that fine phasing allowing them to bring that first calibration star, HD 84406, into focus back in March.
The work has continued since then, and now the first targets of James Webb have been captured. On Monday, we got our very first look at a full color image produced by James Webb.
JWST’s first image
The image was revealed at the White House by President Biden, Vice President Harris, and NASA Administrator Nelson.
The image targeted SMACS 0723 and was Webb’s first deep field image. Peering back 13.8 billion years ago, it features stars (identifiable by the six spikes around them) and very distant galaxies, including many being warped by gravity, which appear as smeared or curved.
James Webb’s first image batch
Now, NASA has released images of three more objects, and spectroscopy data of another.
- Carina Nebula – The Carina Nebula is one of the largest and brightest nebulae in the sky, located approximately 7,600 light-years away in the southern constellation Carina. Nebulae are stellar nurseries where stars form. The Carina Nebula is home to many massive stars, several times larger than the Sun.
- WASP-96 b (spectrum) – WASP-96 b is a giant planet outside our solar system, composed mainly of gas. The planet, located nearly 1,150 light-years from Earth, orbits its star every 3.4 days. It has about half the mass of Jupiter, and its discovery was announced in 2014.
- Southern Ring Nebula – The Southern Ring, or “Eight-Burst” nebula, is a planetary nebula – an expanding cloud of gas, surrounding a dying star. It is nearly half a light-year in diameter and is located approximately 2,000 light-years away from Earth.
- Stephan’s Quintet – About 290 million light-years away, Stephan’s Quintet is located in the constellation Pegasus. It is notable for being the first compact galaxy group ever discovered in 1877. Four of the five galaxies within the quintet are locked in a cosmic dance of repeated close encounters.
Southern Ring Nebula
Along with all the images, Webb’s teams have released spectroscopic data that helps reveal info about the composition of these distant objects.