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NASA Unveils First Image from James Webb Space Telescope

It’s finally here.

NASA released the first science-quality image taken by the James Webb Space Telescope on Monday (July 11) during an event at the White House hosted by President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

The image, dubbed Webb’s First Deep Field, is the deepest infrared view of the universe to date, making use of both JWST’s powerful optics and the technique of gravitational lensing to see the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 as it looked 4.6 billion years ago, according to a NASA statement(opens in new tab).

Webb’s First Deep Field was captured by the observatory’s Near-Infrared Camera, or NIRCam, which was the final instrument on the telescope to be approved for full science operations.

What is the James Webb Space Telescope?

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is the most advanced and most expensive telescope ever built.

It has often been referred to as the ‘successor’ to the Hubble Space Telescope, which was launched in 1990.

The assembled telescope stands tall with its mirror folded at Northrop Grumman’s facility in California.

So is the James Webb Space Telescope replacing the Hubble Space Telescope?

Because JWST doesn’t cover the same types of light that Hubble is capable of, it isn’t truly ‘replacing’ the same capabilities that Hubble has.

However, while we will lose out on the ability to see in ultraviolet light in the same way that Hubble did, by expanding the range of wavelengths out to infrared light, JWST will provide access to a part of the spectrum that Hubble never had.

Artist’s concept of the James Webb Space Telescope. Image Credit: James Vaughan / SpaceFlight Insider

How big is the James Webb Space Telescope?

JWST sunshield is about 22 metres by 12 metres (69.5 ft x 46.5 ft). It’s about half as big as a 737 aircraft. The sunshield is about the size of a tennis court.

JWST’s aperture is 6.5 metres across

JWST will have a vast sunshield used to help keep the telescope cool. This is important for all space telescopes but is particularly true for infrared telescopes like JWST as ‘warm’ objects radiate lots of infrared light.

How far back in time can James Webb Space Telescope see?

The further away an object is, the further back in time we are looking. This is because of the time it takes light to travel from the object to us.

With JWST’s larger mirror, it will be able to see almost the whole way back to the beginning of the Universe, around 13.7 billion years ago.

With its ability to view the Universe in longer wavelength infrared light, JWST will be capable of seeing some of the most distant galaxies in our Universe, certainly with more ease than than the visible/ultraviolet light view of Hubble.

This is because light from distant objects is stretched out by the expansion of our Universe – an effect known as redshift – pushing the light out of the visible range and into infrared.

Why has James Webb Space Telescope been delayed so long?

Space projects often take longer than expected, but JWST has been more unlucky than most.

It was originally planned to be launched in 2007, but a major redesign, escalating costs and delays led to it being pushed back to around 2018. However, the testing period from 2016 onwards also suffered from long delays, and a further delay was imparted by the global pandemic of 2020.

The telescope finally launched on Christmas Day 2021 at 12.20pm GMT (7.20am EST). Over the next six months, the telescope performed a series of complex deployment operations, including the unfurling of its huge sunshield.

Who was James Webb?

James Edwin Webb was an American government official who served as the second appointed administrator of NASA during the 1960s.

The former NASA administrator James E. Webb, right, with former President Harry S. Truman at the newly opened NASA headquarters in Washington in 1961.Credit…NASA

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