Updated: Jul 12, 2022
The official beginning of a new era of seeing deeper into the universe than ever before.
July 11, 2022 President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and NASA Administrator Bill Nelson unveiled the first science-quality image captured by the $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope on Monday (July 11) at the White House. The image is the deepest infrared view of the universe to date, according to a NASA statement, and was created using just 12.5 hours of observing time on one of the telescope's four instruments.
The image shows the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 as it appeared 4.6 billion years ago. The combined mass of this galaxy cluster acts as a gravitational lens, magnifying much more distant galaxies behind it. Webb’s NIRCam has brought those distant galaxies into sharp focus – they have tiny, faint structures that have never been seen before, including star clusters and diffuse features. Researchers will soon begin to learn more about the galaxies’ masses, ages, histories, and compositions, as Webb seeks the earliest galaxies in the universe.
"Today represents an exciting new chapter in the exploration of our universe," Harris said. "From the beginning of history, humans have looked up to the night sky with wonder and thanks to dedicated people who have been working for decades in engineering and on scientific marvels, we can look to the sky with new understanding."
“This telescope embodies how America leads the world, not by the example of our power, but the power of our example,” – Joe Biden
"If you held a grain of sand on the tip of your finger at arm's length, that is the part of the universe that you're seeing, just one little speck of the universe," Bill Nelson – NASA Administrator said at the White House
Today's Image release marks the climax of nearly seven months of carefully orchestrated space operations since JWST launched on Dec. 25, 2021. The telescope spent its first month after blast off and stationing the spacecraft around the orbit at L2 (Sun-Earth Lagrange point) million miles away from earth,
Simultaneously, the spacecraft deployed from a launch-friendly compact configuration, including unfurling the massive kite-shaped sunshield that allows the observatory to study the cosmos in infrared light. The telescope also unfolded its golden mirror and spent weeks finetuning the positions of its 18 hexagonal segments.
Finally, the team behind JWST calibrated each of the four key science instruments, ensuring that each of the spacecraft's 17 observing modes worked properly. That work continued within hours of Biden's remarks, with the final instrument's last mode approved for science earlier on Monday.
The images released today and tomorrow mark the beginning of JWST's career as a full-fledged space observatory.