Looking into space

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Looking into space

With the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope on Christmas Day 2021, NASA and the Canadian and European Space Agencies gave a gift to scientists and space enthusiasts all over the world.

MICHELLE JONES: [APPLAUSE] Good morning. Good morning everyone! We are live and this is it! Today is the day we’ve all been waiting for. So, let’s get excited! [APPLAUSE]

JONES: I think you all can do better than that. Let me hear you again. [APPLAUSE]. There you go. There you go…

REPORTER, BONNIE PRITCHETT: That’s Michelle Jones, NASA Goddard Communications chief. She kicked off the James Webb Space Telescope First Images event like a head cheerleader.

Story Highlights

  • HOST: MYRNA BROWN And my name is Myrna Brown. Today’s first instalment features images from space.

  • BUTLER: Six months and a million miles later, the Webb telescope arrived in its distant orbit and began transmitting photos to Earth. Some of the photographs were made public for the first time on Tuesday. Bonnie Pritchett, a WORLD reporter, has the scoop.

NASA and space industry leaders, congressmen, and the scientists who built and support the Webb filled the Goddard Space Flight Center auditorium. International partners from the European and Canadian Space agencies joined remotely.

NASA Director Bill Nelson reveled in the anticipation.

BILL NELSON: I didn’t know I was coming to a pep rally today. [CROWD HOOTS]. But that’s all the better. You’ve got a lot to be rallying for… Until Tuesday, only about 30 scientists had seen the images downloaded from Webb. Except for a sneak preview from the White House the night before, the pictures had been a closely guarded secret.

The very first person to see Webb’s images was Klaus Pontoppidan, Webb project scientist. I spoke with him last week about Webb’s mission and waiting for the arrival of that first image. PONTOPPIDAN: With experience, you can immediately tell if it’s going to be good or not. And, and the first image that we got down, I could tell it’s gonna be good. And it was a huge relief. So, I just kind of leaning back and looking at it and closing my eyes for a moment and going like, Okay…

A team of instrument scientists, graphic artists and graphic designers turned the infrared data into five true-to-life color images. On Tuesday, those scientists took turns introducing the world to Webb’s views of the universe.

In addition to higher resolution and infrared imaging, Webb can capture data in a fraction of time compared to its predecessor: The Hubble Telescope. RIGBY: The Hubble Extreme Deep Field was two weeks of continuous work with Hubble. And it was just imaging. With Webb? We took that image before breakfast…

That’s scientist Jane Rigby explaining an image of a black field of the distant universe ablaze with stars of varying sizes and brilliance and thousands of galaxies of different hues. JANE RIGBY: There’s so much detail here. We’re seeing these galaxies in ways that we’ve never been able to see before. They’re galaxies here in which you’re seeing individual clusters of stars forming. Popping up like popcorn…