Very soon, humanity will be able to view the deepest images of the universe ever taken. In two weeks, the $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)–NASA’s ultra-expensive and extremely powerful optical deep space imager–will release its first full-color images, and agency officials today suggested it might just be the beginning.
“This is far beyond what humanity has previously looked like,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said during a media briefing on Wednesday. “We are just beginning to understand what Webb can and will do.”
NASA launched James Webb last December; Since then, a specialized start-up has been under way that includes fine-tuning all 18 huge mirror segments. A few months ago, NASA Share a “selfie” Marking the successful operations of the infrared camera and primary mirrors. Earlier this month, the agency said the first images of the telescope will be ready to display for the first time at 10:30 a.m. EDT on July 12.
One aspect of the universe that JWST will reveal is the exoplanets, or planets outside our solar system — specifically, their atmospheres. This is key to understanding whether there are other planets similar to ours in the universe, or if life can be found on planets under atmospheric conditions different from those on Earth. Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, confirmed that images of the atmospheric spectrum of an exoplanet will be shared with the public on July 12.
Essentially, James Webb’s unusual ability to capture the infrared spectrum means he’ll be able to detect particles as small as carbon dioxide. This will enable scientists to study whether and how the composition of the atmosphere shapes the ability of life to appear and develop on a planet.
NASA officials also shared more good news: The agency’s estimate of the telescope’s excess fuel capacity was spot on, and JWST will be able to take pictures of space for about 20 years.
“Not only will those 20 years allow us to delve deeper into history and time, but we will delve deeper into science because we will have the opportunity to learn, grow, and make new observations,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Milroy.
JWST has not had an easy journey into deep space. Nelson said the entire project came close to not happening at all, after it started running out of money and Congress considered scrapping it entirely. also encountered many delays due to technical problems. Then, when she got to space, she was Punched by a microscopic meteor instantlyAn event that sure made every NASA official shiver.
But all in all, “it’s been a fantastic six months,” Web project manager Bill Ochs asserts.
“Devoted student. Bacon advocate. Beer scholar. Troublemaker. Falls down a lot. Typical coffee enthusiast.”