Thursday, July 14, 2022

1st James Webb Space Telescope Images Released by NASA

an undulating, translucent star-forming region in the Carina Nebula is shown in this Webb image, hued in ambers and blues; foreground stars with diffraction spikes can be seen, as can a speckling of background points of light through the cloudy nebula

This stunning, infra-red image of the Carina Nebula was one of the first images received from the newly-activated James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). This huge, swirling cloud of dust and gas is both a stellar nursery and home to some of the brightest and most active stars in the Milky Way Galaxy. (Image Sources: NASA, European Space Agency, Canadian Space Agency, Space Telescope Science Institute)

By Glenn A. Walsh

Reporting for SpaceWatchtower

This week, NASA has released the first full-color images from the new James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which is much larger than the Hubble Space Telescope, is designed to seek stars and galaxies shortly after the “Big Bang”, the creation of our Universe approximately 13.8 billion years ago. The Hubble Space Telescope (HST), along with most traditional terrestrial telescopes, observe using visible light. The JWST is designed to use the infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum to search where visible light telescopes cannot.

The scientists have been pleasantly surprised at how well the JWST is operating, with some gorgeous first images, including the image of the Carina Nebula at the beginning of this blog-post.

Internet links to additional First Images from the James Webb Space Telescope are located near the end of this blog-post.

As one NASA scientist, Jane Rigby, put it at a Tuesday news conference: I had the very emotional reaction of ‘Oh my goodness, it works. And it works better than we thought.” Astrophysicist Jane Rigby works at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland and is Operations Project Scientist for the JWST.

In addition to the images released to the public, 13 research projects have already begun using JWST. This research ranges from objects in our own Solar System to exo-planets (planets orbiting other stars), the evolution of stars, black holes, and galaxies, and intergalactic space.

JWST has already made one discovery regarding exo-planet WASP-96b, which was not made with ground-based telescopes or with the Hubble Space Telescope. Scientists at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore were quite surprised when the readings from JWST indicated that this exo-planet has water, probably water vapor in the atmosphere as it is very close to its host star. There was also evidence of clouds in the atmosphere. The study of exo-planet atmospheres was included in the design of JWST.

Due to the very close proximity of exo-planet WASP-96b to its host star, the planet is unlikely to have any life. However, exo-planets that might be life-bearing candidates will likely be found in the future with JWST, even if life on a particular planet cannot be proven at such a great distance.

One minor disappointment was when scientists realized that one of the hexagonal mirrors had been damaged more than expected by a micro-meteoroid strike in late May. NASA officials have taken steps to ensure that the distortion from the damaged mirror is barely noticeable. NASA is considering what other steps can be taken to ameliorate the cosmic dust and micro-meteoroids that are encountered by JWST.

Over the last few decades, NASA has had much success with the Space Shuttle, International Space Station, Hubble Space Telescope (albeit, after an optics correction), several missions to Mars, and the New Horizons mission to Pluto and beyond. The James Webb Space Telescope took a lot of time to construct at a pretty hefty price tag, but NASA got it right again! The James Webb Space Telescope will provide new scientific information and discoveries, paid for by American, European, and Canadian taxpayers and freely given-away for the benefit of all human-kind!

More About the Telescope

JWST is the largest space telescope ever launched. With a primary mirror size of 21.3 feet / 6.5 meters, it is much larger than the HST primary mirror: 7.8 feet / 2.4 meters.

The JWST mirror is comprised of 18 gold-plated beryllium, hexagonal segments. A 5-layer Sun-shield, the size of a tennis court, protects the mirror from any heat radiated by the Sun, Earth, or Moon. Made of silicon and aluminum-coated Kapton, this Sun-shield should keep the JWST primary mirror and related instruments at a temperature no higher than 50 degrees Kelvin / -370 degrees Fahrenheit / -223 degrees Celsius. To search for the earliest galaxies and stars in the Universe, using infrared, the telescope mirror must be extremely cold and shielded from heat.

After the 2021 Christmas morning launch of JWST, the telescope traveled 930,000 statute miles / 1.5 million kilometers from Earth to a point in Deep Space known as L2. L2 is the second Lagrange Point of the Earth – Sun system. A Lagrange Point is a site where the gravity between two large bodies, in this case the Earth and the Sun, is relatively balanced; satellites can stay at such a point with minimum energy usage. It is a point in Deep Space where the JWST can remain, somewhat easily, in an orbit and away from the heat of the Earth and the Sun.

The JWST mission has four key goals:

  • Search for light from the very first stars and galaxies that formed in our Universe, shortly after the Big Bang. The Universe is estimated to be about 13.8 billion years old; JWST is expected to find light from stars and galaxies approximately 13.5 billion years in the past (13.5 billion light-years from Earth).

  • Study the formation and evolution of galaxies.

  • Study the formation of stars and planetary systems..

  • Further study planetary systems, looking for the origins of life.

The Hubble and James Webb space telescopes are different in mission duration. The Hubble Space Telescope has had the advantage of being in a close Earth orbit, where Space Shuttle astronauts have been able to service and upgrade the telescope. With the conclusion of the Space Shuttle program, the ability to service and upgrade the HST seems to have ended. As the HST is now, it is expected to last until some tine in the 2030s.

The JWST, being placed much further away from the Earth, cannot be serviced or upgraded by current space technology. To stay at the L2 orbital site, which is a somewhat unstable orbit, rocket propellant must be used. JWST has 10 years of rocket propellant on-board, to maintain the L2 configuration of the telescope. So, 10 years is the upper limit of the mission duration.

The nominal science mission is officially 5 years, with the hope that the telescope can continue to be used for research for 10 years. Once the JWST spacecraft reached L2, there was a 6-month commissioning phase, before the official science mission began. The commissioning phase included the careful, and very risky, unfolding of the huge telescope mirror, very crucial Sun-shield, and related instruments.

The JWST is named after James Webb, the second Administrator of NASA. James Webb ran NASA from February of 1961 until October of 1968, for seven years retiring just before the first manned flight of the Apollo spacecraft.

He was in charge of NASA during all Mercury and Gemini flights. And, he was Administrator during the investigation of the tragic fire, which killed three astronauts, during a ground test of the Apollo 1 spacecraft on Friday, 1967 January 27.

The James Webb Space Telescope, originally designed to cost $1 billion to $3.5 billion, had many cost over-runs, throughout the many years of development and delays. With the launch of JWST, the final cost of the project was $10 billion.

More than 30 years ago, even before the 1990 launch of the Hubble Space Telescope, planning had begun on JWST. Construction of JWST began in 2004, after having been named to honor James Webb in 2002.

In 1993, when the U.S. Congress killed the Superconducting Super Collider project for particle physics in Texas, scientists had feared the same thing would happen to JWST. But, former U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) helped to save JWST at that time.

The launch of JWST had been expected some time between 2007 and 2011. Due to continual cost over-runs, the launch kept being delayed. In 2011, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to cancel the JWST project, due to the continual cost over-runs. Scientists and space enthusiasts, including teachers and school children, successfully rallied to save the project.

As it took many years to develop and construct the JWST, planning for the next great space telescope has just begun. In November, a committee convened by the independent National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has recommended that another huge space telescope should be designed and built to study exo-planets (planets orbiting stars other than our Sun) and search for signs of life. It is projected that this new telescope would be launched some time in the 2040s.

 First Images from JWST: Link >>>

 NASA Gallery of More First Images from JWST: Link >>>

Internet Links to Additional Information ---

James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) -

Link 1 >>>

Link 2 >>> 

Link 3 >>>

L2 - Second Lagrange Point in Earth - Sun System: 

Link >>> 

 Related Blog-Post ---

"Finally! Live-Stream: Christmas Launch of Next Great Space Telescop." Fri., 2021 Dec. 24.

Link >>>

Source: Glenn A. Walsh Reporting for SpaceWatchtower, a project of Friends of the Zeiss          

               Thursday, 2022 July 14.

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Glenn A. Walsh, Informal Science Educator & Communicator                                                             (For more than 50 years! - Since Monday Morning, 1972 June 12):
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Electronic Mail: < >
Project Director, Friends of the Zeiss: Link >>>
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Formerly Astronomical Observatory Coordinator & Planetarium Lecturer, original Buhl Planetarium & Institute of Popular Science (a.k.a. Buhl Science Center), Pittsburgh's science & technology museum from 1939 to 1991.
Formerly Trustee, Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall, Pittsburgh suburb of Carnegie, Pennsylvania.
Author of History Web Sites on the Internet --
* Buhl Planetarium, Pittsburgh: Link >>>  Buhl Observatory: Link >>>
* Adler Planetarium, Chicago: Link >>>
* Astronomer, Educator, Optician John A. Brashear: Link >>>
* Andrew Carnegie & Carnegie Libraries: Link >>>

* Other Walsh-Authored Blog & Web-Sites: Link >>>

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