When the James Webb Space Telescope was launched on Christmas Day last year, we were left with a wave of mixed emotions. Admiration mixed with perplexity in the face of what is to follow. The stress-ridden elation over whether the $10 billion machine would reach its destination. Relief mixed with anticipation.
After celebrating a long-awaited lift-off, the world waited patiently for several months to hear from JWST. And we’re almost on the other side.
Mark your calendars – on July 12, NASA will release the first full-fledged images taken by the gold-plated James Webb Space Telescope, hunting exoplanets, punching through stardust and searching for black holes.
Read on for more details on how to log in.
How to capture the first JWST images
The JWST team will host a main event to unveil the real-time telescope images on Tuesday, July 12 at 7:30 a.m. PT. You can watch it on NASA TV, seen below.
Here is this time around the world.
- US: 7:30 a.m. PT / 10:30 a.m. ET
- Brazil: 11:30 a.m. (federal district)
- United Kingdom: 3:30 p.m.
- South Africa: 4:30 p.m.
- Russia: 5:30 p.m. (Moscow)
- WATER: 6:30 p.m.
- India: 8:00 p.m.
- China: 10:30 p.m.
- Japan: 11:30 p.m.
- Australia: July 13, 1:30 a.m. AEDT
Also, be sure to check out GameSpot Highlights, our YouTube channel, for all the great moments.
Can I take a private tour of JWST’s first footage?
Yeah. If you’re not a big fan of live unveilings and prefer to take it all without pomp, NASA will also be posting JWST’s first color images and spectral data online here. Adding to the drama, the agency says these images will be released “one by one”.
Edge of our seats, indeed.
NASA also recommends following its Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts to capture some of the discussion.
Plus, you can say hello to your new screensaver, wallpaper, home decor, and personalized coffee mugs by downloading high-resolution versions of JWST Scientific Discoveries and other additional content.
What should we expect from the first images of JWST?
By now you may have seen some preliminary images of the JWST. I know I spent a lot of time thinking about it. But these are not exactly the “first images” of the oscilloscope.
In short, NASA must go through a total of 17 test “modes”, which can be considered checkpoints, before starting the telescope. And as the agency progressed through the roster, we were lucky enough to get a bunch of glowing red-orange peeks at JWST’s eventual vision.
However, these are pretty much the products of the calibration of all of the telescope’s instruments – which you can read about in more detail here – and not the finalized, long-awaited conglomerate images that scientists call JWST’s “first light.” .
But at a press conference on Wednesday, NASA personnel who have already seen the true first light of JWST said they were absolutely blown away and moved to tears. “What I saw moved me, as a scientist, as an engineer, and as a human being,” said Pam Melroy, NASA deputy administrator.
In general, I would say that scientists are so enthralled with JWST simply because we do not know What to expect. That’s kind of the point. This telescope is often called “pioneering” and “groundbreaking” because it’s designed to find things in the universe we might never have thought existed and answer questions about the evolution of the time that we did not know how to pose.
That’s because JWST works very differently from other high-tech telescopes, including Hubble. It uses what’s called infrared imagery to show us a region of the universe we can’t see with the naked eye – and even Hubble can’t see with its super-powerful lens.
What you need to know about infrared imaging
In a nutshell, JWST’s infrared imaging instruments work together to detect light emanating from a region of the electromagnetic spectrum invisible to the human eye – the infrared region. This area of the spectrum is vital for mapping the timeline of our universe, but it was somehow missing in previous observations.
As stars and galaxies move further and further away from us, the wavelengths of light they emit continuously stretch like a rubber band being pulled. Eventually they stretch so much that they reach the infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum. And, because the universe is constantly expanding, the oldest, rarest, and probably most valuable stars — and the things lit by those stars — appear to us only as infrared light.
So we can’t see those super-distant, truly ancient cosmic bodies with our eyes—or even a regular telescope lens, for that matter—even though we squint until our faces hurt and hope until our faith begins to wane.
When JWST looks up to the sky, however, it can show us all that infrared goodness. It will illuminate for us all the stars, galaxies, quasars, black holes, and perhaps even exoplanets poised to hold life that we cannot see. You can read more about the infrared mechanism here – but basically think of it as the difference between looking at the stars from a light-saturated New York City and then again from a dark forest dell.
Amidst the dense foliage, you would see a lot more sparkles even though it’s the same sky. You simply visualize it without being filtered by light pollution. JWST takes this to the next level…times a million. He is armed to show us an unfiltered universe.
Hubble has some infrared sensing capabilities, but not as much as JWST. Other space probes, such as the 1989 Cosmic Background Explorer, have technically studied a greater distance into the universe than the JWST – but JWST “was designed not to see the beginnings of the universe, but to see a period in the history of the universe that we have yet to see,” said John Mather, lead project scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope.
Potentially, understanding this missing piece of the cosmic puzzle could help us figure out if the Big Bang story is correct, how far the universe really stretches, and, one day, maybe even show us if there is of life there. Or prove to us that we are alone.
The possibilities are endless, but they will begin to unfold on July 12. Until then, here’s the countdown to NASA’s first JWST light.