NASA officials gather to unveil Webb space telescope’s first full-color images

GREENBELT, Md., July 12 (Reuters) – Following a presidential sneak peek of a galaxy-studded image from deep in the cosmos, NASA officials gathered on Tuesday to unveil more of their initial showcase from the James Webb Space Telescope, the largest and most powerful orbital observatory ever launched.

The first batch of full-color, high-resolution pictures, which took weeks to render from raw telescope data, were selected by NASA to provide compelling early images from Webb’s major areas of inquiry and a preview of science missions ahead.

The $9 billion infrared telescope, built for NASA by aerospace giant Northrop Grumman Corp , is expected to revolutionize astronomy by allowing scientists to peer farther than before and with greater clarity into the cosmos, to the dawn of the known universe.

A partnership between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency, the Webb was launched on Christmas Day, 2021, and reached its destination in solar orbit nearly 1 million miles from Earth a month later.

Once there, the telescope underwent a months-long process to unfurl all of its components, including a sun shield the size of a tennis court, and to align its mirrors and calibrate its instruments.

With Webb now finely tuned and fully focused, astronomers will embark on a competitively selected list of science projects exploring the evolution of galaxies, the life cycles of stars, the atmospheres of distant exoplanets and the moons of our outer solar system.

The introductory assortment of pictures had been a closely guarded secret until Friday, when the space agency posted a list of five celestial subjects chosen for its big reveal on Tuesday at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

Whoops and hollers from a spritely James Webb “cheer team” welcomed some 300 scientists, telescope engineers, politicians and senior officials from NASA and its international partners into a packed and lively auditorium ahead of opening remarks.

“I didn’t know I was coming to a pep rally today,” NASA Administrator James Nelson said from the stage, enthusing that Webb’s “every image is a discovery.”

U.S. President Joe Biden got a jump on the unveiling with his own White House briefing on Monday to release the very first photo – an image of a galaxy cluster dubbed SMACS 0723 revealing the most detailed glimpse of the early universe recorded to date.

Source: Reuters