First James Webb Telescope image shows ‘deepest’ view of the universe ever

After 14 years of development and six months of calibration, the James Webb Space Telescope is finally ready to begin its mission to explore the depths of our cosmos. On Monday, NASA and President Joe Biden divided the space telescope’s first color image that glimpses the beginnings of the universe.

According to NASA, “Webb’s First Deep Field” represents the sharpest and “deepest” image yet of the distant Universe. What you’re seeing is a snapshot of a galaxy cluster called SMACS 0723 as they appeared 4.6 billion years ago. The combined mass of all the galaxies pictured acts as a gravitational lens, magnifying the much more distant celestial bodies seen in the background. Some of the galaxies have never-before-seen features that astronomers will soon study to learn more about the history of our Universe. NASA notes that Webb’s First Deep Field does not represent our earliest view of the universe. Microwave telescopes like the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) took snapshots closer to the Big Bang, but didn’t offer a view of stars and galaxies as shown by NASA today.

“Mr. President, if you hold a grain of sand on your fingertip at arm’s length, that’s the part of the universe you see,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told President Biden during Monday’s briefing. “Just a tiny speck of the universe .”

It has been a long road for NASA to get to this historic moment. When the JWST was first announced, the agency planned to launch the telescope in 2007. After a redesign in 2005, NASA finally completed work on the project, saying the spacecraft would be ready for launch by 2018. In 2019, NASA completed assembly of the telescope, but then the pandemic struck, causing further delays in testing and shipping. All in all, these delays eventually resulted in the JWST project costing $10 billion. NASA’s decision to name its most advanced space telescope ever after the agency’s former Administrator James Webb has also been a source of controversy. Before Webb oversaw the Mercury, Gemini, and early Apollo programs at NASA, he worked at the US State Department when the agency laid off hundreds of gay employees.

The image Biden shared today is just the first of a handful of photos NASA plans to share of the JWST this week. The remainder of the first list will arrive tomorrow morning at 9:45 p.m. ET when NASA holds a press conference led by Webb. The event will be broadcast live at 10:30 am ET on , , and .

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