First James Webb Space Telescope photos show the universe in a new light
The first batch of James Webb Space Telescope photos released by NASA usher in a new era of discovery as the powerful new tool comes fully online.
Why it matters: The $10 billion observatory is tasked with revealing the processes that govern our universe, from how stars form to how the earliest galaxies evolved.
What's happening: The photos, released Monday and Tuesday, show off star formation within the Carina Nebula, a giant planet's atmosphere, a cluster of galaxies, one of the deepest photos of the universe ever taken and a planetary nebula.
- The deep field photo — revealed on Monday by President Biden — contains galaxies as they looked more than 13 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang.
- The JWST's image of the giant, extremely hot exoplanet WASP-96 b revealed water vapor in its atmosphere.
- And the telescope's photo of the planetary nebula — called the Southern Ring Nebula — shows off the dying star at its center as never before.
How it works: The JWST looks out on the universe in infrared light, allowing it to cut through dust that obscures photos taken in optical wavelengths.
- This allows the telescope to see galaxies that are farther away — and further back in time — in order to piece together how the earliest galaxies formed after the Big Bang.
- The telescope's huge mirror and instruments also allow scientists to gather data about the compositions of alien planets' atmosphere and how stars form.
Between the lines: This mission hasn't been without its controversies here on Earth.
- While today the telescope is in space and appears to be functioning perfectly, its development cost billions of dollars more than expected and took decades longer than anticipated to build.
- Astronomers are also calling on NASA to re-name the observatory, saying that former NASA Administrator James Webb had a hand in ousting LGBTQ+ employees from their federal jobs in the 1950s and 1960s.
The bottom line: These photos are just the beginning for JWST, which scientists expect will re-frame how they understand the history of the universe.