NASA shares teaser for Webb telescope’s first image release

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Get ready to see some awe-inspiring views of the universe as we’ve never seen it before.

The James Webb Space Telescope will release its first high-resolution color images on July 12, one of which “is the deepest image of our universe that has ever been taken,” according to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

The space observatory, which launched in December, will be able to peer inside the atmospheres of exoplanets and observe some of the first galaxies created after the universe began by viewing them through infrared light, which is invisible to the human eye.

The first image release will highlight Webb’s science capabilities as well as the ability of its massive golden mirror and science instruments to produce spectacular images.

The first five cosmic targets of Webb were shared by NASA on Friday, providing a teaser for what we can expect to see in the image release. The targets were selected by an international committee, including members from NASA, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

One of the targets is the Carina Nebula, located 7,600 light-years away. This stellar nursery, where stars are born, is one of the largest and brightest nebulae in the sky and is home to many stars much more massive than our sun.

Additionally, the first full-color spectrum of an exoplanet, known as WASP-96b, will be shared on Tuesday. The spectrum will include different wavelengths of light that could reveal new information about the planet located 1,150 light-years from Earth, such as whether it has an atmosphere. The giant gas planet, which was discovered in 2014 and has half the mass of Jupiter, completes an orbit around its star every 3.4 days.

The third target is the Southern Ring Nebula, also called the “Eight-Burst,” which is 2,000 light-years away from Earth. This large planetary nebula includes an expanding cloud of gas around a dying star.

Stephan’s Quintet, also expected in the release, will reveal the way galaxies interact with one another. This compact galaxy group, first discovered in 1877, is located 290 million light-years away in the constellation Pegasus. Four of the five galaxies in the group “are locked in a cosmic dance of repeated close encounters,” according to a NASA statement.

The final target is SMACS 0723, where a massive group of galaxy clusters act as a magnifying glass for the objects behind them. Called gravitational lensing, this will create Webb’s first deep field view of incredibly old and distant, faint galaxies. It will be the deepest humans have ever looked into the universe.

The initial goal for the telescope was to see the first stars and galaxies of the universe, essentially watching “the universe turn the lights on for the first time,” said Eric Smith, Webb program scientist and NASA Astrophysics Division chief scientist.

Smith has worked on Webb since the project began in the mid-1990s.

“The James Webb Space Telescope will give us a fresh and powerful set of eyes to examine our universe,” Smith wrote in an update. “The world is about to be new again.”

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