From cosmic cliffs to the birthplace of stars, the James Webb Space telescope is stunning stargazers and non-stargazers alike with its breathtaking views of a universe never glimpsed before.
The world’s largest and most powerful space telescope is capturing images of thousands of galaxies – some of which formed billions of years ago after the Big Bang – and some of the faintest objects ever observed.
The telescope will explore every phase of cosmic history, NASA says.
Here’s what you should know:
What do the images show?
The first pictures from the telescope, released Monday and Tuesday, show thousands of galaxies, some of which formed nearly 13.2 billion years ago. They are seen in part because the James Webb Telescope targeted a cluster called SMACS 0723, which has a gravitational field so strong it magnifies the light of older, more distant galaxies.
NASA also plans to release imagery of a “stellar nursery” where the Carina Nebula, the Southern Ring Nebula and Stephan’s Quintet formed.
See first images:What the James Webb Space Telescope has captured
Where is the James Webb Telescope now?
The Webb telescope is pretty far away – 1 million miles from Earth to be exact. It launched in December 2021 from French Guiana.
What is the James Webb Telescope?
The James Webb Space Telescope was built through an international partnership between the Canadian, European and American space agencies. It has been in development since the 1990s and, according to NASA, aims to explore cosmic history, taking a deeper look at our own galaxy and the many that came before it.
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How does the telescope look back in time?
The telescope looks back in time using gravitational lensing. The latest image from the Webb telescope looks much bigger than it is: The picture is about the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length and shows only an infinitesimally small bit of our vast universe, NASA says.
But the galaxy cluster captured in the image, known as SMACS 0723, serves as a gravitational lens, bringing to light more distant galaxies. Its gravity is so strong that it distorts the light coming from other galaxies, making them appear brighter and therefore visible to us.
How long will the James Webb telescope last?
The Webb facility is expected to operate for five years but is not capped at that, and it has the materials to operate for more than 10 years, according to NASA.
Is James Webb much better than Hubble?
The James Webb telescope is the most powerful space telescope in history. It is better in resolution and detail than its predecessor, the Hubble Telescope. It has a larger collecting area and can capture longer wavelengths in infrared.
Both of these space photographers take “deep field” images, pictures with long exposure times (12½ hours in Webb’s case) that allow even the most faint form of incoming light to be seen.
The Hubble Telescope, which had its own dramatic reveal in the 1990s, is now second fiddle. The James Webb telescope is designed to capture light 100 times fainter than that captured by Hubble.
Check out Hubble Telescope’s discoveries:‘Needle-in-a-haystack’ search finds possible phantom-like black hole roaming the Milky Way
Can the James Webb Telescope see planets?
Yes! New images show a distant gas giant planet. Evidence of water, clouds and haze gave scientists an unprecedented observation point for planets hundreds of light-years beyond Earth that would be habitable.
As for the planets in our own solar system – the Webb telescope can see those too, of course. “Because it is so powerful, it has capabilities that we can apply everywhere in the cosmos, even in our local neighborhood, the solar system,” said Heidi Hammel, an interdisciplinary scientist working on Webb, in an interview with Space.com.
What is the temperature of the James Webb Space Telescope?
The Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI)) employed by the telescope is cooled to below 7 kelvins, or minus 447 degrees Fahrenheit, according to NASA. Since the operation of the telescope produces heat, a cryocooler of gaseous helium is required to offset that and maintain temperature stability.
Who funded the James Webb Telescope?
The Webb telescope cost $10 billion. About $9.7 billion is from the U.S.; $810 million came from the European Space Agency; and $160 million came from the Canadian Space Agency.
JWST isn’t only funding recipient:Scientists are searching the universe for signs of alien civilizations: ‘Now we know where to look’
Who was the James Webb Telescope named after?
The James Webb Telescope was named after James E. Webb, who was NASA’s administrator from February 1961 to October 1968. NASA’s website describes Webb as the government official who did more for science than perhaps any other and a fitting recipient to be the namesake of the Next Generation Space Telescope.