The first images from NASA's next-generation James Webb Space Telescope are set to be released next month and will include the deepest view of the universe ever taken, agency officials confirmed Wednesday.
NASA and its partners, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency, will unveil the initial batch of full-color images from the Webb telescope in a much-anticipated event on July 12. The $10 billion observatory is humanity's largest and most powerful space telescope, and experts have said it could revolutionize our understanding of the cosmos.
Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said that seeing the first images from the Webb telescope will be an emotional milestone for humanity — a moment he described as witnessing nature "giving up secrets that have been there for many, many decades, centuries, millennia."
"It's not an image. It's a new worldview," Zurbuchen said Wednesday in a news briefing.
The release will be streamed live by NASA at 10:30am EDT. In addition to the deepest infrared view yet captured of the universe, NASA officials said they will release the Webb telescope's first spectrum of an exoplanet, showing light emitted at different wavelengths from a planet in another star system. These images could offer new insights into the atmospheres and chemical makeup of other exoplanets in the cosmos.
Other images included in the inaugural release will be photos showing how galaxies interact and grow, and ones depicting the life cycle of stars, from the emergence of new ones to violent stellar deaths.
The Webb telescope will continue to beam back data in the lead-up to the July 12 event, but NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy described being impressed with what she has seen so far.
"I could not contain myself," Melroy said of the initial images. "What I have seen just moved me as a scientist, as an engineer and as a human being."
The Webb telescope launched into space on Dec. 25, 2021. The tennis-court-sized observatory is able to peer deeper into the cosmos and in greater detail than any telescope that has come before it.
NASA has spent the past six months configuring the observatory in orbit and testing its various scientific instruments. Agency officials said the telescope is performing better than expected and has enough fuel onboard to operate for 20 years.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, who participated in Wednesday's briefing virtually because he tested positive for Covid-19, said scientists are only beginning to understand what the Webb telescope can and will do.
"It's going to explore objects in the solar system and atmospheres of exoplanets orbiting other stars, giving us clues as to whether potentially their atmospheres are similar to our own," he said. "It may answer some questions that we have: Where do we come from? What more is out there? Who are we? And, of course, it's going to answer some questions that we don't even know what the questions are. So in many ways, Webb's journey has only just begun."