It’s finally here.
Literally decades in the making, the first image from NASA’s $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope was released Monday night by President Joe Biden at a White House briefing.
The first image shows thousands of galaxies, including the faintest objects ever observed, appearing in Webb’s view for the first time. This is the deepest view of the cosmos ever captured.
“Today is a historic day,” President Biden said. “The first image from the Webb Space Telescope represents a historic moment for science and technology,” he said. “For astronomy and space exploration.”
“And for America and all of humanity,” he added.
Several newer images from the Webb Telescope will be released Tuesday morning, NASA officials said.
The images are the first wave of full-color science images the telescope has collected, and they show the farthest humanity has ever seen, both in time and distance.
The release of the image marks the official start of Webb’s general science operations.
What is the James Webb Space Telescope?
Webb, an international partnership with European and Canadian space agencies that had been planned since the early 1990s, launched in December from French Guiana.
After unfolding in its final form in space and successfully reaching its destination 1 million miles from Earth, the telescope recently completed its months-long process of preparing for science operations.
The size of a tennis court and three stories high, the Webb is the largest telescope ever sent into space. It is also a staggering 100 times more powerful than the famous but aging Hubble Space Telescope, which is now 32 years old.
Looking back in time and space
Telescopes not only see things that are far away in the distance, but they can also look back in time because of the time it takes for light from distant galaxies to reach Earth. That allows the Webb telescope, using infrared wavelengths, to see the first stars and galaxies that formed about 13 billion years ago, shortly after the Big Bang.
According to NASA, Webb will explore every phase of cosmic history, from the inner solar system to the most distant observable galaxies in the early universe, and everything in between.
“Webb can look back in time to just after the Big Bang by looking for galaxies that are so far away that light has taken billions of years to get from those galaxies to our telescopes,” said Jonathan Gardner, deputy project scientist for the Webb. at a recent press conference.
Webb uses a huge 21-foot primary mirror made of hexagonal tiles to study the cosmos. His main ability is infrared observation, which means that he will be able to peer through obstacles like dust clouds to see the early stages of star formation. Scientists even hope to see the atmospheric compositions of distant planets showing promise.
Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA’s science mission, said that with the new telescope, the cosmos is “giving up secrets that have been there for many, many decades, centuries, millennia.”
A ‘new view of the world’
“It is not an image. What you are going to see is a new vision of the world,” she said during a recent press conference.
Zurbuchen said that when he saw the images he was moved, as were his colleagues: “It’s really hard not to look at the universe in a new light and not just have a moment that’s deeply personal.”
The images were selected by an international committee of representatives from NASA, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency and the Space Telescope Science Institute.
Who was James Webb?
The machine’s namesake, James Webb, was NASA’s second administrator, serving from 1961 to 1968.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: James Webb Space Telescope: First image released by Biden on Monday