US President Joe Biden has unveiled the first full-colour image of the cosmos taken by the James Webb Space Telescope, offering what NASA said was “the deepest, sharpest infrared view of the universe” ever taken.
During a ceremony at the White House on Monday evening, Biden said it was “an historic day” as the world’s largest and most powerful space science telescope offered a “new window into the history of our universe”.
“Today we’re going to get a glimpse at the first light to shine through that window,” Biden said shortly before the release of the image, which showed bright white, yellow and orange lights that NASA said represented “galaxies once invisible to us”.
“Light from other worlds, orbiting stars far beyond our own,” Biden said. “The oldest-documented light in the history of the universe from over 13 billion – let me say that again – 13 billion years ago.”
The image will be followed on Tuesday by the release of four more galactic beauty shots from the telescope’s initial outward gazes.“We’re going to give humanity a new view of the cosmos,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told reporters last month in a briefing. “And it’s a view that we’ve never seen before.”
The $9bn Webb observatory, named after the man who ran NASA during the Apollo space programme that put humans on the moon in the 1960s, was designed to peer through the cosmos to the dawn of the known universe, ushering in a revolutionary era of astronomical discovery.
It soared off from French Guiana on South America’s northeastern coast on December 25, 2021, before reaching its final destination 1.6 million kilometres (one million miles) from Earth less than a month later. NASA is collaborating on Webb with the European and Canadian space agencies.
The highly anticipated release of its first imagery follows a six-month process of remotely unfurling Webb’s various components, aligning its mirrors and calibrating instruments.
With Webb now finely tuned and fully focused, scientists will embark on a competitively selected list of missions exploring the evolution of galaxies, the life cycles of stars, the atmospheres of distant exoplanets and the moons of our outer solar system.
Built to view its subjects chiefly in the infrared spectrum, Webb is about 100 times more sensitive than its 30-year-old predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, which operates mainly at optical and ultraviolet wavelengths.