The James Webb Space Telescope will release its first full-color images and spectroscopic data on July 12, and a countdown clock has been added to the telescope’s website.
Webb, which is a partnership with the European Space Agency, Canadian Space Agency, and NASA, is the largest and most complex observatory ever launched into space. The telescope is currently in the midst of wrapping up a six-month-long preparation stage ahead of its first scientific observations which includes calibrating its instruments and aligning its mirrors.
This period of preparation will culminate to a demonstration of Webb’s full observational power on July 12 and kick off its availability for science missions.
“As we near the end of preparing the observatory for science, we are on the precipice of an incredibly exciting period of discovery about our universe. The release of Webb’s first full-color images will offer a unique moment for us all to stop and marvel at a view humanity has never seen before,” Eric Smith, Webb program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington, says. “These images will be the culmination of decades of dedication, talent, and dreams – but they will also be just the beginning.”
What Will Webb’s First Full-Color Photo Be?
NASA says that deciding what Webb should point at first has been a project more than five years in the making.
“Our goals for Webb’s first images and data are both to showcase the telescope’s powerful instruments and to preview the science mission to come,” said astronomer Klaus Pontoppidan, Webb project scientist at Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI). “They are sure to deliver a long-awaited ‘wow’ for astronomers and the public.”
The team will proceed through a list of targets that have been preselected and prioritized by an international committee and the production team will receive the data from Webb’s instrument and process it for distribution. What exactly that will be of has not been revealed.
The Webb team says that they have been preparing to take the telescope’s first full-color photo for some time, but the telescope is so powerful that it has been difficult to predict exactly how the first images will look.
“Of course, there are things we are expecting and hoping to see, but with a new telescope and this new high-resolution infrared data, we just won’t know until we see it,” STScI lead science visuals developer Joseph DePasquale says.
While infrared images have been shared previously as markers for the telescope’s alignment progress, the photos shared on July 12 will be the first taken in full color and will showcase Webb’s full capability.
After that first photo is shared, Webb will proceed to its scientific observations as part of its goal to see into the past of the early universe.
Image credits: Header illustration via NASA