On Monday, the world got a small taste of what the James Webb Space Telescope has to offer to scientists and the public. But on Tuesday, NASA and its partner space agencies are serving up full meal. Starting in the late morning, the agency will reveal a series of images from the largest and most powerful space observatory ever launched.
You can follow along to see the images on this blog. Here’s what you need to know.
When will the images be shared, and how can I watch them?
NASA will begin a series of opening remarks by agency leadership at 9:45 a.m. Eastern time on Tuesday, then show a series of pictures starting at 10:30 a.m. Eastern time from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. You can watch the events on a live video stream at NASA TV or YouTube, or in a video feed provided here.
Later in the day, at 12:30 p.m. NASA will host a live Q. and A. with members of the media and a selection of the experts from the agency as well as representatives of the Canadian Space Agency and European Space Agency, which have made contributions to the telescope and its mission.
What picture was revealed on Monday?
In a brief event at the White House on Monday, President Biden and NASA introduced Webb’s first scientific image, which 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 away 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.
Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for space science, described this image as the deepest view yet into the past of our cosmos.
Marcia Rieke of the University of Arizona, who led the building of NIRCam, one of the cameras on the Webb telescope that took the picture, said, “This image will not hold the ‘deepest’ record for long but clearly shows the power of this telescope.”
What other images can we expect?
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.
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 stars including some of the most massive and potentially explosive star systems in the Milky Way.
Yet another familiar astronomical scene is Stephan’s Quintet, a tight cluster of galaxies about 290 million light-years from here in the constellation Pegasus.
The team will also release a detailed spectrum of an exoplanet known as WASP-96b, a gas giant half the mass of Jupiter that circles a star 1,150 light-years from here every 3.4 days. Such a spectrum is the sort of detail that could reveal what is in that world’s atmosphere.