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President Biden to unveil the first science image from the Webb Telescope – Spaceflight Now

EDITOR’S NOTE: President Joe Biden will participate in a White House event at 5:00 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT) on Monday to unveil the first science image from the James Webb Space Telescope. Additional images will be posted on Tuesday.

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At a White House event scheduled for 17:00 EDT (21:00 GMT) on Monday, President Joe Biden will give astronomers, space enthusiasts and the general public a look at the first science image from the James Webb Space Telescope.

The early unveiling, announced late Sunday, will come one day ahead of Webb’s long-planned release date for the first science images on Tuesday, when officials from NASA, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency and other research institutions will unveil the observatory’s first look at a set of cosmic wonders.

Webb launched on Christmas Day atop a European Ariane 5 rocket and arrived in its working orbit nearly a million miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth in January. Since launch, the $10 billion observatory has opened its mirror and sun shield, allowing its instruments’ detectors to cool to cryogenic temperatures, not far above absolute zero.

Over the past few months, ground teams have been calibrating Webb’s instruments and aligning the telescope’s mirror segments. The telescope’s performance exceeded design specifications, officials said.

Webb’s segmented primary mirror – 21.3 feet (6.5 meters) in diameter – is the largest ever launched into space. The mirror’s light-gathering power, combined with its sensitive, super-cold detectors, allow Webb to peer deeper into the universe — and further back in time — than humans have ever seen.

Before Webb, the Hubble Space Telescope was the benchmark for space-based astronomical observatories. Launched in 1990 with a mirror one-third the size of Webb’s, Hubble’s suite of ultraviolet, visible, and near-infrared observations wowed astronomers with views of distant galaxies, colorful clouds of gas in star-forming nebulae, and provided measurements of the expansion rate of the universe.

Astronomers have used Hubble to peer deep into cosmic history with a series of “deep-field” images, each showing thousands of never-before-seen distant galaxies in a postage stamp-sized patch of sky. One of the images, called Hubble’s Extreme Deep Field, was released by NASA in 2012, revealing about 5,500 galaxies of all shapes and sizes by combining observations with two of Hubble’s instruments with a total exposure time of 23 days.

The oldest galaxies in Hubble’s Extreme Deep Field were seen as they were 13.2 billion years ago, about 500 million years after the Big Bang gave birth to the universe. Webb’s first deep field, which could be released Monday by President Biden, will look even further into the past.

The James Webb Space Telescope, with its five-layer canopy and optical elements, is fully deployed. Credit: NASA

The scientists said Webb, with its improved light-gathering power and infrared instruments better attuned to the red-shifted light from the ancient universe, could see the first generation of stars and galaxies that shone just 100 million to 200 million years ago after the big bang. Elements fused in these objects helped give birth to today’s universe.

But that’s not all Webb will do.

“This telescope is so powerful that if you were a bumblebee 240,000 miles away, which is the distance between the Earth and the Moon, we would be able to see you,” said John Mather, senior project scientist for the mission at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. center in Maryland.

“So what are we going to do with this great telescope? We will look at everything in the universe that we can see.

This runs the gamut from the most distant galaxies in space to planets, moons, asteroids and comets in our own solar system. Webb will be able to observe everything from Mars outward, seeing details unseen by any other space observatory since Galileo revolutionized astronomy with his first telescope in 1609.

Webb will see through clouds of dust to study star-forming regions opaque to telescopes like Hubble. Webb’s light-gathering power will also allow scientists to measure the chemical composition of the atmospheres of planets around other stars, revealing for the first time which alien worlds may be habitable for life.

Here is a list from NASA of science images and data scheduled for release on Tuesday:

  • Carina Nebula: The Carina Nebula is one of the largest and brightest nebulae in the sky, located approximately 7,600 light-years away in the southern constellation Carina. Nebulae are stellar nurseries where stars form. The Carina Nebula is home to very massive stars several times the size of the Sun.
  • WASP-96b (spectrum): WASP-96b is a giant planet outside our solar system composed mainly of gas. The planet, located nearly 1,150 light-years from Earth, orbits its star every 3.4 days. It has about half the mass of Jupiter and its discovery was announced in 2014.
  • Southern Ring Nebula: The Southern Ring, or Burst Eight Nebula, is a planetary nebula – an expanding cloud of gas surrounding a dying star. It is almost half a light-year in diameter and is located about 2,000 light-years from Earth.
  • Stefan’s Quintet: About 290 million light-years away, Stephan’s Quintet is located in the constellation Pegasus. It is notable for being the first compact galaxy group ever discovered in 1787. Four of the five galaxies within the quintet are locked in a cosmic dance of repeated close encounters.
  • SMACS 0723: Massive foreground galaxy clusters magnify and distort the light of objects behind them, allowing deep-field views of both extremely distant and intrinsically faint galaxy populations.

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Follow Stephen Clarke on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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