The largest space telescope ever built is ready to show us what it’s been looking at for the past six months. But before NASA gives the world a slide show from the James Webb Space Telescope’s early cosmic sightseeing, the White House will provide a brief preview on Monday afternoon.
President Biden is set to unveil a “deep field” image the observatory captured. Perhaps the Webb telescope’s biggest promise is to look at some of the first stars that lit up the universe after the Big Bang. While Monday’s snapshot will not be able to accomplish that, it is a proof of principle of the technique and a hint at what more is to come from scientific instruments that astronomers have waited decades to bring online.
When will the image be revealed, and how can I watch it?
The first image will be revealed Monday at 5 p.m. by President Biden at the White House on NASA TV or the agency’s YouTube channel. The New York Times will also provide a live video feed.
What image is NASA and Biden showing?
On Friday, NASA released a list of five subjects that Webb had recorded with its instruments. But Mr. Biden will only be showing off one of them at the White House on Monday.
The image goes by the name of SMACS 0723. It is a patch of sky visible from the Southern Hemisphere on Earth and often visited by Hubble and other telescopes in search of the deep past. It includes a massive cluster of galaxies about four billion light-years from here that astronomers use as a kind of cosmic telescope. The cluster’s enormous gravitation field acts as a lens, warping and magnifying the light from galaxies behind it that would otherwise be too faint and faraway to see.
Learn More About the James Webb Space Telescope
After traveling nearly one million miles to reach a location beyond the moon, the James Webb Space Telescope will spend years observing the cosmos.
Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for space science, described this image as the deepest view yet into the past of our cosmos. Later images will surely look back even further, he added.
Marcia Rieke of the University of Arizona, who led the building of one of the cameras on the Webb telescope the picture was taken with, known as NIRCam, said, “This image will not hold the ‘deepest’ record for long but clearly shows the power of this telescope.”
What about the rest of the images?
NASA will show other pictures at 10:30 a.m. Eastern time on Tuesday in a live video stream you can watch on NASA TV or YouTube. They will be shown off at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
The pictures constitute a sightseeing tour of the universe painted in colors no human eye has seen — the invisible rays of infrared, or heat radiation. A small team of astronomers and science outreach experts selected the images to show off the capability of the new telescope and to knock the socks off the public. Among the cosmic images are old friends to astronomers both amateur and professional, who now get to see them in new infrared raiments.
There is the Southern Ring Nebula, a shell of gas ejected from a dying star about 2,000 light-years from here, and the Carina Nebula, a huge swirling expanse of gas and…