Update: President Biden is now scheduled to begin his press conference revealing the new image at 5:30 p.m. ET. The conference was previously scheduled for 5 p.m. This story has been updated to reflect the new timing.
NASA is about to drop the first full-color images from its newest space telescope, forever changing deep-space astronomy.
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is six times larger and 100 times more powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope, which has been NASA’s prime space observatory since it launched in 1990. Astronomers expect JWST to fill a mysterious gap in the historical record of our universe — the first 400 million years after the Big Bang — and to identify distant worlds that could host alien life.
It took more than two decades and $10 billion to build and launch JWST, but now the infrared observatory is orbiting the sun 1 million miles from Earth, fully unfolded and calibrated.
On Monday night, NASA is going to show the world for the first time what its new eye in the sky can do. At 5:30 p.m. ET, President Joe Biden plans to reveal the first full-color image from JWST.
NASA will broadcast the announcement live from the White House on NASA TV, starting at 5:30 p.m. ET. Watch it in the video embed, below:
There will be more images coming on Tuesday. NASA has a handful of full-color images from JWST, and it plans to release them one by one, starting at 10:30 a.m. ET, also broadcast on NASA TV, above.
NASA, along with the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency, which are collaborating on the new telescope, will discuss the images at noon ET on Tuesday.
NASA hasn’t said what astronomical sight will feature in the first JWST image on Monday evening. But the agency did release the following list of objects captured in the first images, to be revealed this week:
Carina Nebula: The Carina Nebula is one of the largest and brightest nebulae in the sky, located approximately 7,600 light-years away in the southern constellation Carina. Nebulae are stellar nurseries where stars form. The Carina Nebula is home to many massive stars, several times larger than the sun.
Southern Ring Nebula: The Southern Ring, or “Eight-Burst” nebula, is a planetary nebula — an expanding cloud of gas, surrounding a dying star. It is nearly half a light-year in diameter and is located approximately 2,000 light-years away from Earth.
Stephan’s Quintet: About 290 million light-years away, Stephan’s Quintet is located in the constellation Pegasus. It is notable for being the first compact galaxy group ever discovered in 1877. Four of the five galaxies within the quintet are locked in a cosmic dance of repeated close encounters.
SMACS 0723: Massive foreground galaxy clusters magnify and distort the light of objects behind them, permitting a deep field view into both the extremely distant and intrinsically faint galaxy populations.
NASA also plans to release data JWST has collected on the giant gas planet WASP-96 b. The planet is located about 1,150 light-years from Earth, and has about half the mass of Jupiter. That data will showcase JWST’s ability to analyze the entire spectrum of infrared light emitted by an object, in order to identify individual elements.
That method, called spectroscopy, should help astronomers determine what’s in the atmosphere of planets orbiting other stars — invaluable information in the search for alien life.
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