We’re only 12 days away from seeing the first full-color scientific images from NASA’s incredible $10B James Webb Space Telescope. As the excitement builds, NASA has suggested that the first images will be just the beginning of what we can expect to see from Webb.
‘This is farther than humanity has ever looked before,’ said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson during a media briefing earlier this week. ‘We’re only beginning to understand what Webb can and will do.’
To recap, Webb was launched last December and has undergone extensive testing (https://www.dpreview.com/news/7026993143/james-webb-space-telescope-sees-its-first-star-using-all-18-of-its-primary-mirror-segments) since reaching the second Lagrange point (L2).
While we don’t know precisely what we’ll see when the first images are unveiled on July 12 at 10:30 AM ET, Thomas Zuburchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, confirmed that ‘images of an exoplanet’s atmospheric spectrum will be shared with the public on July 12,’ per TechCrunch. Webb’s ability to capture the infrared spectrum allows it to detect even small molecules in an exoplanet’s atmosphere, meaning that Webb may unlock a greater understanding of different planet’s capacity for life.
NASA also confirmed that its estimates for Webb’s fuel capabilities were accurate and that the JWST will be able to capture images of space for around 20 years. ‘Not only will those 20 years allow us to go deeper into history and time, but we will go deeper into science because we will have the opportunity to learn and grow and make new observations,’ said NASA deputy administrator Pam Melroy.
|Image Credit: NASA/STScI|
Some other news has come out since we last checked in with Webb. On June 23, NASA released a ‘selfie‘ that Webb captured using a specialized pupil imaging lens inside Webb’s Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam). The specialized lens is designed to aid with mirror alignment, but as you can see above, it’s also useful for a self-portrait of Webb’s 18 primary mirror segments.
Today, NASA announced that Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) is good to go and has passed its final postlaunch preparations. NASA writes, ‘The last MIRI mode to be checked off was its coronagraphic imaging capability, which uses two different styles of masks to intentionally block starlight from hitting its sensors when attempting to make observations of the star’s orbiting planets. These customized masks allow for scientists to directly detect exoplanets and study dust disks around their host stars in a way that’s never been done before.’
‘We are thrilled that MIRI is now a functioning, state-of-the-art instrument with performances across all its capabilities better than expected. Our multinational commissioning team has done a fantastic job getting MIRI ready in the space of just a few weeks. Now we celebrate all the people, scientists, engineers, managers, national agencies, ESA, and NASA, who have made this instrument a reality as MIRI begins to explore the infrared universe in ways and to depths never achieved before,’ said Gillian Wright, MIRI European principal investigator at the UK Astronomy Technology Centre, and George Rieke, MIRI science lead at the University of Arizona. MIRI is a joint effort between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA).
After many years of hard work, the Webb team is very close to releasing its first images. To follow the countdown, click here.