“It’s a new window into the history of our universe,” President Biden said. “Today we’re getting a glimpse of the first light shining through that window.”
Launched on Christmas Day 2021, the $ 10 billion JWST is the most advanced telescope ever sent into space. With 21 feet in diameter and 18 gold-plated hexagonal mirrors, the infrared telescope, a collaboration between the US, Europe and Canada, is able to look farther and more accurately across the cosmos than any other instrument. , surpassing even Hubble.
For the past few months, engineers have been working tirelessly to get the machine up and running, which is protected from the sun’s rays by a large parasol the size of a tennis court. Located 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, beyond the orbit of the Moon, the telescope is now ready to operate. “Keep pinching yourself,” says Mark McCaughrean, senior adviser on science and exploration at the European Space Agency. “It’s so surprisingly good.”
The image presented today by President Biden is the first of four to be released this week, the others are images of two spectacular nebulae and a compact group of galaxies. A fifth observation will also be revealed, a preliminary study of the atmosphere of a planet from another solar system.
“It’s like putting on glasses for the first time,” says Wendy Freedman, an astronomer at the University of Chicago. Paul Byrne, astronomer at the University of Washington in St. Louis, describes the image as “poetic,” revealing a whole series of galaxies inhabited by stars and planets in the cosmos.
These test images are a small glimpse of what the telescope is capable of, which is run by NASA and the Baltimore Space Telescope Science Institute. The JWST’s first year of scheduled scientific observations includes detailed studies of exoplanets, research into remote galaxies, and expeditions into the sky, and therefore back in time, to the Big Bang itself.
“This observatory is seeing things we’ve never seen before,” says Michael Menzel, JWST’s chief systems systems engineer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, “and it’s only in first gear.”