Long before Webb even launched from French Guiana, we’ve been waiting for this moment: the first full-color images from this cutting-edge space telescope. NASA announced yesterday that those pictures will be available on July 12, along with some spectroscopic data.
“The release of Webb’s first full-color images will offer a unique moment for us all to stop and marvel at a view humanity has never seen before,” said Eric Smith, a Webb program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington, in a NASA release.
Webb launched on December 25 and arrived at its observation point in space—a place called L2, a million miles from Earth—one month later. Since then, NASA scientists (as well as scientists at the European and Canadian space agencies, who are partners on the telescope mission) have been hard at work preparing the machine to do science.
The telescope’s primary science goals are to study the birth of stars and the rise of planetary systems, to learn about the evolution of galaxies and local objects like exoplanets, and to investigate the earliest sources of light in the universe—the very first stars and galaxies.
“Our goals for Webb’s first images and data are both to showcase the telescope’s powerful instruments and to preview the science mission to come,” said astronomer Klaus Pontoppidan, a Webb project scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, in the same release. “They are sure to deliver a long-awaited ‘wow’ for astronomers and the public.”
NASA has been tight-lipped about what Webb’s first color images will show, though we got a clue last month, when the agency released some remarkable shots of the Large Magellanic Cloud taken by Webb’s MIRI instrument and held a briefing on what is to come. From that press conference, we know that the images (called “early release observations”) will be of Webb science targets. But the exact subjects will remain a “surprise” until the images are released in July, Pontoppidan said last month.
The first images are only a month away, but many will follow thereafter. Only planned to last five years, the Webb mission may go for as long as 20 years, thanks to fuel saved during an ultra-precise launch.