First Webb Space Telescope Image Revealed


One of the first views from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope showing “the deepest and sharpest infrared image of the distant universe to date” was officially released to the public on Monday. Taken by the telescope’s near-infrared camera (NIRCam), the picture is a composite put together from images collected at different wavelengths over the course of 12.5 hours. According to NASA, it shows the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 as it appeared 4.6 billion years ago.

“Thousands of galaxies—including the faintest objects ever observed in the infrared—have appeared in Webb’s view for the first time,” NASA said. “This slice of the vast universe covers a patch of sky approximately the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length by someone on the ground.”

As previously reported by AVweb, the James Webb Space Telescope launched last Christmas from the Arianespace Guiana Space Centre in French Guiana. Mission goals for the telescope include searching for the first galaxies or luminous objects formed after the Big Bang, determining how galaxies evolved from their formation until now, observing the formation of stars from the first stages to the formation of planetary systems, and measuring the physical and chemical properties of planetary systems. NASA plans to release a full suite of images beginning at 10:30 a.m. EDT on Tuesday.

Kate O'Connor
Kate O’Connor works as AVweb's Editor-in-Chief. She is a private pilot, certificated aircraft dispatcher, and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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  1. Well, it’s an awesome, mind bending picture, but it is art. When you take monochrome IR images and monkey around with color replacements to make it look like vivid color then you are actually…..lying, and where else to show it? The White House. Fits right in.

    • Really?!? You’re gonna make this political?!?! OMG.

      You know, humans can’t actually see infrared light. Would you prefer they show the actual, untouched image? Then you would see – absolutely nothing. Is that what you’re arguing for?

      • No, I’d like to hear the words “false color” along with the picture. Presented side-by-side with the monochrome IR plate would be nice too.
        Not partisan political really, it’s just where the whoppers are told.
        These pictures also beg my favorite question too: What’s behind all that stuff?

    • No photos were supposed to be released until this morning. But, someone at the WH decided that Mr. Biden would trump this international effort for nothing but perceived political mileage. No doubt it created some behind the scenes rancor amongst NASA’s James Webb Telescope international partners.

    • You do realize that virtually every space image is a false-color image, right? Even color visual images are false-color in a way, because those sensors are usually monochrome that use color filters to composite together a color image.

      As for it being a politically-motivated release, if that is true, it certainly would not be the first one. The WH has been doing that for about as long as there have been space-based observatories, under both Democrat and Republican administrations. There’s nothing new here to see.

      • You are exactly right, Gary. Most of the dazzling color photos NASA has released since Hubble went into orbit have been color adjusted to emphasize details in the field. Also, they often combine data from various telescopes (IR, visible, UV and X-Ray) to show a composite image in greater detail than would be possible in a single spectrum. One big advantage of using IR light is the fact that the universe is expanding causing the red shift of light in distant objects. Infrared reveals details that visible light would not pick up.

  2. “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world. God has made a home in the heavens for the sun.”
    ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭19:1-4‬ ‭NLT‬‬

  3. “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world. God has made a home in the heavens for the sun.”
    ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭19:1-4‬ ‭NLT‬‬

  4. JWST senses infrared radiation. Infrared is not visible to human eyes. If you want to look at an image of infrared radiation, you don’t need a space telescope, just look at a blank piece of paper. If you want a visual image of infrared data, you will need to convert the infrared by assigning visible colors to the invisible infrared wavelengths. The term monochrome refers to a narrow range of wavelengths around one visible color and has no meaning in non-visible wavelengths. NASA could convert digital infrared measurements into monochrome images by assigning narrow ranges of wavelengths around one color, say gray, or as many consumer infrared imagers do, they could assign a narrow range of wavelengths around the visible color red. However, I am glad they choose to use the full spectrum of visible wavelengths.

    • So, there’s a, uh, hu-person working on these images on a computer somewhere who picks what color to assign to differences between the images from various IR filters. Or maybe it’s all mathematical and based on the (guessed?) red-shift of each pixel in the image. So, it? generates a new picture and shows that one to the team. If they all go ooh and aah then that picture goes to the press conference.

  5. It’s a pretty cool picture. But when you realize that, other than the few spiky stars in the foreground, almost every other detail in the picture is a far distant galaxy, similar to our own Milky Way, it becomes truly awesome. To look at that small of a slice of the sky and see that many galaxies is kind of mind-bending.

  6. If viewing space objects in general has not made you feel insignificant, this photo certainly should.

  7. The comment section cracks me up. Imagine being so disgruntled that you complain about not seeing something your eyes can’t actually see!

    Can’t wait to see what else JWST produces.

    • Just a call for intellectual honesty. The raw data can be kind of boring so they have to jazz it up. I worked on Flir units at Texas Instruments in the 70’s so I know exactly what IR images are and are not.

      • Boy, you must be a laugh riot at kid’s birthday parties:
        Hey, kids, you know that cake you’re eating? It’s made from unfertilized ovum and bovine gland secretions, with a large dose of ground-up prairie grass!

      • I’m going to keep my eye out for your posts in the future. I’m looking forward to learning more from you. Hopefully, there are other topics of which you have a similar level of understanding and you will be able to educate us on those as well. It will be fascinating reading. In the meantime, I’ll just have to content myself with contemplating these horrible JWST images.

  8. How do they know that is how it looked “4.6 billion years ago”. When there was no one there to see it 4.6 billion years ago. Like the big bang theory it is only a theory some ones best guess with no real fact of proof.

    • They know how it looked 4.6 billion years ago because they can do the math. So can you! And there WAS somebody there (here) to see it, for instance anybody who looked at the picture above.

      For instance if you’re on an ILS, on final, and crossing the outer marker at 5 miles. Assuming it’s VFR conditions so you can see the end of the runway, and knowing that light travels at about 186,000 miles per second, when you cross the outer marker, the light from the end of the runway needed 0.0000269 seconds to reach your eyes. So in that case you are seeing the runway as it looked 0.0000269 seconds ago.

      Or if you look at the moon, you’re seeing it as it looked about 1.3 seconds ago. I’m going to assume you can follow along here. So instead of being 0.0000269 seconds away like the runway on a 5 mile final, SMACS 0723 is a bit further out, so it takes 4.6 billion years for the light to get here.

      Pretty simple math, even for a pilot. No need for bible passages, or sarcasm, just second grade multiplication and division.

  9. “Like the big bang theory it is only a theory some ones best guess with no real fact of proof.”

    The “fact of proof” is in the palm of your hand. If the Big Bang theory was wrong your cell-phone would not work. That’s the beauty of scientific theories – the good ones answer questions and fill in the gaps of seemingly unrelated fields.