The Webb Image you’ve Been Waiting For: the Orion Nebula

Orion Nebula by JWST
The inner region of the Orion Nebula as seen by the James Webb Space Telescope’s NIRCam instrument. Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, PDRs4All ERS Team; image processing Salomé Fuenmayor

This is it, folks. Feast your eyes! It’s what we’ve been training for—seeing the James Webb Space Telescope’s first detailed view of the Orion Nebula! JWST’s NIRCam gazed at this starbirth nursery and revealed incredible details hidden from view by gas and dust clouds.

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Astronomers List 88 Distant Galaxies They Want to Look at With JWST. Some Are Less Than 200 Million Years Old.

distant galaxies behind a nearby galaxy cluster.
The galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 as seen by NIRCam on JWST. It's gravitational lensing properties are helping astronomers identify 88 distant galaxies in this field of view for further study. Courtesy NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI

Way back in the earliest ages of the universe, the first galaxies were born. Astronomers want to know more about them. They’re especially interested to know exactly when these distant galaxies formed and what their stars were like. Now that JWST is a working observatory, astronomers are excited to use its data to explore those early epochs. They’re eager to see the most distant objects, and—as seems likely—do a rejiggering of the cosmic timeline after the Big Bang.

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JWST Turns Its Gaze on the Cartwheel Galaxy

Cartwheel Galaxy
This image of the Cartwheel and its companion galaxies is a composite from Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI). Courtesy NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI.

The Cartwheel Galaxy, also known as ESO 350-40, is one disturbed-looking piece of cosmic real estate. To look at it now, especially in the latest JWST view, you’d never know it used to be a gorgeous spiral galaxy. That was before it got involved in a head-on collision with a companion. The encounter happened somewhere around 200-300 million years ago. Essentially, the smaller galaxy “bulls-eyed” the Cartwheel, right through its heart. A shock wave swept through the system, changing everything. The aftermath is what we see in this latest image from JWST.

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JWST Sees the Most Distant Galaxy Ever, Just 300 Million Years After the Big Bang

galaxies from JWST

By now, almost everyone has seen the first-release images from JWST and marveled at these amazing views of the infrared universe the telescope was launched to explore. The view of SMACS 0723 seen above illustrates the promise JWST holds. While there are many more early-release images in the observation pipeline, we’re starting to see the first research papers come out. As expected, studies of distant galaxies are grabbing headlines already.

Wow, are these findings amazing! In the last couple of days, websites and social media have been alive with images of a blob that, in reality, is one of the oldest (earliest) galaxies ever seen. It’s one of two—GL-z11 and GL-z13—that show us what they looked like when the Universe was extremely young, about 300 million years after the Big Bang. When confirmed, they’ll mark a milestone in studies of the infant Universe.

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Webb Has Almost Reached its Final, Coldest Temperature

Image: James Webb Space Telescope
NASA's James Webb Telescope, shown in this artist's conception, will provide more information about previously detected exoplanets. Beyond 2020, many more next-generation space telescopes are expected to build on what it discovers. Credit: NASA


Launched on December 25, 2021 from ESA’s launch site in Kourou, French Guiana aboard an Ariane 5 rocket, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) reached its final orbit at the L2 Lagrange point on January 24, 2022. It has since performed several operations to get it ready for its observing mission which should begin in about a month.

As part of getting it ready for its mission, NASA has been cooling off its instruments, such as the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), to operating temperatures. Now that they have reached that point, all that’s left to cool down are the mirrors.

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ESA’s Gaia Just Took a Picture of L2 Neighbor JWST

Gaia snaps photo of Webb. Credit: ESA

Oh, hello there new neighbor!  In February, the Gaia spacecraft took a picture of its new closest companion in space at the second Lagrangian point, the James Webb Space Telescope.

Gaia is an optical telescope that is mapping out our galaxy by surveying the motions of more than a thousand million stars. Astronomers for the mission realized that once JWST reached L2, it would be in Gaia’s field of view.  It spied JWST when the two spacecraft were a million km apart.

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Webb has Now Taken the Sharpest Image the Laws of Physics Allow

A JWST engineering image of the star 2MASS J17554042+6551277, uses a red filter to optimize visual contrast. Credits: NASA/STScI

Engineers and scientists for the James Webb Space Telescope have completed two more steps in the telescope’s primary mirror alignment process, and in a briefing today, officials said JWST’s optical performance appears to be better than even the most optimistic predictions.  

The team released a new engineering image, showing the star 2MASS J17554042+6551277 in crisp clarity. This image demonstrates that all 18 mirror segments have been precisely aligned to act as one giant, high-precision 6.5-meter (21.3-foot) primary telescope mirror.

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Webb Has Arrived Successfully at L2

Graphic showing Webb’s trajectory into the L2 Lagrange Point. Credit: NASA

It’s really happening. The James Webb Space Telescope has successfully reached its orbital destination in space, 1.5 million km (1 million miles) from Earth. A final 5-minute thruster firing on January 24, 2022 put JWST in its halo orbit at the Sun-Earth Lagrange 2 (L2) point. The formal commissioning process can now begin.

“We’re excited to announce today that Webb is officially on station at its L2 orbit, capping off a remarkable 30 days,” said Webb’s commissioning manager Keith Parrish in a January 24 news conference. “It’s an incredible achievement by our team.”

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Finally! Here’s the Video of Webb’s Unboxing

It’s been a long time coming.  Finally, after years of delays and billions of dollars in budget overruns, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is ready to fly.  To celebrate the occasion, ESA released a video showing the “unboxing” of one of the most highly advanced technical achievements in human history.  It is truly as impressive as it sounds.

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James Webb’s 30 Days of Terror

JWST's flight path to L2. Credit: NASA

It’s been a long and winding road getting the James Webb Space Telescope from concept to reality. And finally, after decades of planning, work, delays, and cost overruns, the next generation of space telescopes is finally ready to launch. But even now, as the telescope might be secretly traveling by cargo ship to the European Space Agency (ESA) launch site in French Guiana, everyone involved with the JWST project knows a successful launch isn’t the final victory.

In reality, post launch is when the real nail-biting begins. While the Mars rover teams undergo “Seven Minutes of Terror” to land their spacecraft on the Red Planet, the JWST teams will have more than 30 days of excruciating, slow-motion terror as the telescope embarks on its month-long-day, 1.5-million-kilometer (million-mile) journey out to the second Lagrange point (L2).

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