Webb Space Telescope Image Stirs Excitement as NASA Teases More Photos

NASA is releasing its first look at images showing the early days of stars and galaxies captured by the most exacting space telescope ever made that promises a singular view into the mysteries of the universe.

NASA on Monday released a detailed image of a far-away universe that was recorded by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) at an event featuring President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. Called "Webb's First Deep Field," the unprecedented infrared image is the initial glimpse at a vast expanse of space from the $10 billion telescope operating at full power.

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope
The James Webb Space Telescope today revealed the "deepest and sharpest infrared image of the early universe" ever taken, according to NASA. In this combination image, Illustration of the James Webb Space Telescope (Left inset), a sneak a peek at the deepest & sharpest infrared image of the early universe ever taken — all in a day’s work for the Webb telescope (Right inset) and handout provided by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), U.S. President Joe Biden listens to NASA administrators during a preview of the first full-color image from NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, the highest resolution image available of the infrared universe, in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building of the White House July 11, 2022 Getty/NASA GSFC/CIL/Adriana Manrique Gutierrez/ ESA, CSA, and STScI

The kaleidoscopic image shows the "deepest and sharpest infrared image" of SMACS 0723, a distant cluster containing thousands of galaxies. Because light takes time to travel from the outer reaches of space, the image is essentially a glimpse back into time that depicts how the universe appeared over 13 billion years ago.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, while speaking at an event on Monday, explained that light travels at 186,000 miles per second, meaning the images nearly date back to when the universe began around 13.8 billion years ago. He said the telescope will be so precise that it can answer questions about the atmosphere of individual planets and if they are habitable.

"And when you look at something as big as this is, we are going to be able to answer questions that we don't even know what the questions are yet," he said.

NASA plans to release more images during a televised broadcast beginning at 10:30 a.m. EST on Tuesday from the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Launched jointly in December with the European Space Agency and French company Arianespace, the JWST is equipped with a 6.5 meter (21.3 feet) diameter golden primary mirror that gives it its operational power. The mirror has 18 hexagonal segments, each of which is 1.32 meters (4.33 feet) in diameter, that work in concert to capture tiny slivers of wavelength light.

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope launch in 1990 meant a new milestone for space exploration, giving a clear view of stars outside of the Earth's atmosphere. Images captured by the telescope earlier exceeded NASA's expectations.

Hubble Space Telescope
Hubble Space Telescope. In this combination image, a 1990 photograph shows the Hubble Space Telescope being deployed from the space shuttle Discovery on mission STS-31. The IMAX Cargo Bay Camera mounted in the payload bay and remotely controlled by the crew members in the cabin and the magnificent spiral galaxy NGC 2276 looks a bit lopsided in this Hubble Space Telescope snapshot. A bright hub of older yellowish stars normally lies directly in the center of most spiral galaxies. But the bulge in NGC 2276 looks offset to the upper left. Nasa/IMAX Cargo Bay Camera /Hubble

Nelson said the images captured by JWST released Monday are "just one little speck of the universe," adding that there "are billions of galaxies with billions of stars and suns."

"If you held a grain of sand on the tip of your finger at arm's length, that is the part of the universe that you're seeing," he added.

Harris called the telescope "one of humanity's great engineering achievements." Biden called it a symbol of "the relentless spirit of American ingenuity."

"These images are going to remind the world that America can do big things. And they'll remind the American people, especially our children, that there's nothing beyond our capacity—nothing beyond our capacity," Biden said.

Newsweek reached out to Bill Nelson's office.