Greenbelt, Md.: A sparkling landscape of baby stars. A foamy blue and orange view of a dying star. Five galaxies in a cosmic dance. The splendors of the universe glowed in a new batch of images released Tuesday from NASA’s powerful new telescope.
The unveiling from the $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope began Monday at the White House with a sneak peek of the first shot — a jumble of distant galaxies that went deeper into the cosmos than humanity has ever seen.
Tuesday’s releases showed parts of the universe seen by other telescopes. But Webb’s sheer power, the distant location from Earth, and use of the infrared light spectrum showed them in a new light that scientists said was almost as much art as science. “It’s the beauty but also the story,” NASA senior Webb scientist John Mather, a Nobel laureate, said after the reveal. “It’s the story of where we come from.”
With Webb, scientists hope to glimpse light from the first stars and galaxies that formed 13.7 billion years ago, just 100 million years from the universe-creating Big Bang. The telescope also will scan the atmospheres of alien worlds for possible signs of life.
“Every image is a new discovery and each will give humanity a view of the humanity that we’ve never seen before,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said Tuesday, rhapsodizing over images showing “the formation of stars, devouring black holes.”
Webb’s use of the infrared light spectrum allows the telescope to see through the cosmic dust and see faraway light from the corners of the universe, scientists said.
The European and Canadian space agencies joined NASA in building the telescope, which was launched in December after years of delays and cost overruns. Webb is considered the successor to the highly successful, but aging Hubble Space Telescope. Webb project scientist Klaus Pontoppidan decided to focus one of Webb’s early gazes on that location because he knew it would be a frameable beauty shot. The result was an image of a colorful landscape of bubbles and cavities where stars were being born.