(CNN) — We already have the first glimpse of how the James Webb Space Telescope will change the way people see the universe. US President Joe Biden unveiled one of the first images from the telescope Monday at the White House during a preview event with NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.
The image shows SMACS 0723, a galaxy cluster that acts as a magnifying glass for objects behind it. Called gravitational lensing, this created the telescope’s first deep-field view of thousands of galaxies, including incredibly old and distant faint galaxies.
“This portion of the vast universe covers a patch of sky about the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length by someone on the ground,” according to a NASA statement.
“It is the deepest image of our universe that has ever been taken,” according to Nelson.
The rest of the high-resolution color images will make their debut as scheduled on Tuesday, July 12.
The space observatory, which launched in December, will be able to peer into the atmospheres of exoplanets and observe some of the first galaxies created after the universe began by viewing them through infrared light, which is invisible to the human eye.
The release of the first image will highlight the scientific capabilities of the James Webb Telescope, as well as the ability of its huge golden mirror and science instruments to produce spectacular images.
There are several events taking place during Tuesday’s image release, all of which will be streamed live on NASA’s website.
Opening remarks from NASA leadership and the James Webb Telescope team will begin Tuesday at 9:45 am ET, followed by an image release broadcast beginning at 10:30 am ET. The images will be revealed one by one, and a press conference at 12:30 pm ET will provide more details.
The first images
NASA shared the first cosmic targets from the James Webb Telescope on Friday, a preview of what Tuesday’s image release will include: the Carina Nebula, WASP-96b, the South Ring Nebula and Stephan’s Quintet.
Located 7,600 light-years away, the Carina Nebula is a stellar nursery, where stars are born. It is one of the largest and brightest nebulae in the sky and is home to many stars much more massive than our sun.
The James Webb Telescope’s study of the gas giant planet WASP-96b will be the first full-color spectrum of an exoplanet. The spectrum will include different wavelengths of light that could reveal new information about the planet, such as whether it has an atmosphere. Discovered in 2014, WASP-96b is located 1,150 light-years from Earth. It is half the mass of Jupiter and completes one orbit around its star every 3.4 days.
The South Ring Nebula, also called the “Eight Bursts,” is 2,000 light-years distant from Earth. This large planetary nebula includes an expanding cloud of gas around a dying star.
The space telescope view of Stephan’s Quintet will reveal the way galaxies interact with each other. This compact group of galaxies, first discovered in 1787, lies 290 million light-years away in the constellation Pegasus. Four of the five galaxies in the group “are locked in a cosmic dance of repeated close encounters,” according to a NASA statement.
The targets were selected by an international committee, including members from NASA, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.
Looking to the future
These will be the first of many images to come from Webb, the most powerful telescope ever launched into space. The mission, originally expected to last 10 years, has enough excess fuel capacity to operate for 20 years, according to NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy.
“Webb can look back in time to just after the Big Bang by looking for galaxies that are so far away, light has taken many billions of years to get from those galaxies to us,” said Jonathan Gardner, deputy principal scientist on the project. Webb at NASA, during a recent press conference. “Webb is bigger than Hubble so it can see dimmer galaxies that are further away.”
The telescope’s initial goal was to see the universe’s first stars and galaxies, essentially seeing “the universe turn on the lights for the first time,” said Eric Smith, Webb program scientist and chief scientist for NASA’s Astrophysics Division.
Smith has worked on the James Webb telescope since the project began in the mid-1990s.
“The James Webb Space Telescope will give us a powerful new set of eyes to examine our universe,” Smith wrote in an update on NASA’s website. “The world is about to be new again.”