Excitement builds as Biden to release first image from Webb telescope

This combination of images from a computer animation made available by NASA in December 2021 depicts the unfolding of the components of the James Webb Space Telescope. Webb is so big that it had to be folded origami-style to fit into the nose cone of the Ariane rocket. (NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab via AP)
This combination of images from a computer animation made available by NASA in December 2021 depicts the unfolding of the components of the James Webb Space Telescope. Webb is so big that it had to be folded origami-style to fit into the nose cone of the Ariane rocket. (NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab via AP)

US President Joe Biden will release later today one of the first images taken by the James Webb Space Telescope, the most powerful observatory ever sent into orbit and a leap forward in uncovering the secrets of the distant universe.

The unveiling will take place at 5 p.m. (midnight in Israel) during a livestreamed event at the White House, official statements say, leaving the space community in a state of eager anticipation.

NASA revealed last week Webb’s first targets included distant galaxies, bright nebulae and a faraway giant gas planet.

The very first image, released by the US president, will be of the “deep field” — an image taken with very long exposure time, to detect the faintest of objects in the distance — according to a person familiar with the matter.

NASA previously said Webb would achieve this shot by pointing its primary imager toward massive foreground galaxy clusters called SMACS 0723, which bend the light of objects far behind them toward the observer, an effect called “gravitational lensing.”

This promises to be what NASA chief Bill Nelson called last month the “deepest image of our Universe that has ever been taken.”

The rest of the first wave of images are set to be released by NASA tomorrow.

Webb’s infrared capabilities are what make it uniquely powerful, allowing it to both pierce through cosmic dust clouds and detect light from the earliest stars, which has been stretched into infrared wavelengths as the universe expanded.

This lets it peer further back in time than any previous telescope, to the period shortly after the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago.

“When I first saw the images… I suddenly learned three things about the Universe that I didn’t know before,” Dan Coe, a Space Telescope Science Institute (STSI) astronomer and expert on the early Universe, tells AFP. “It’s totally blown my mind.”

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