Countdown to Webb’s first pictures

Commissioning of the James Webb Space Telescope is nearing completion. Webb’s sunshade, mirrors, instruments, and all other components are almost ready to begin the observatory’s long-awaited scientific activities! This historic moment finally begins on July 12 with the unveiling of Webb’s first high-resolution color images.

To watch the live transmission of Webb’s first images, go to NASA Live on July 12 at 10:30 a.m. EDT.

Artist’s rendering of the James Webb Space Telescope in space. (Source: STScI)

Since its launch on Christmas morning 2021, the James Webb Space Telescope has achieved several crucial milestones that have helped prepare it for scientific observations. The telescope was first fully deployed and moved to its final destination around Lagrange point 2 1.5 million miles from Earth, then its mirror segments were aligned and it was cooled to its optimum operating temperature, which is just 40 degrees above absolute zero (or -233 degrees Celsius). Now Webb just has to make sure his scientific instruments are working properly.

The Webb telescope’s four science instruments are housed in the integrated science instrument module behind its primary mirror. (Image credit: NASA/Chris Gunn)

The Webb telescope has four science instruments in addition to its guide camera, the Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS), provided by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). The four scientific instruments are capable of using a range of tools, methods and techniques to study the universe in different ways.

  • the NIR camera (Near-InfraRed Camera) is a near-infrared camera provided by the University of Arizona that will be Webb’s primary imaging tool. He can also perform coronagraphy, a technique that involves blocking light from a very bright central object to better see less bright objects in the area. It also acts as the telescope’s wavefront sensor, allowing the 18 segments of the Webb mirror to act as one giant mirror.
  • the NIRSpec (Near-InfraRed Spectrograph) is a near-infrared spectrograph that separates light into its individual colors or wavelengths. It is provided by the European Space Agency (ESA) with contributions from NASA. It can capture the spectra of many objects simultaneously, including through a method called integral field spectroscopy, which records spatial and spectral information simultaneously.
  • the MIRI (Mid-InfraRed Instrument), provided by the European Space Agency, is the only mid-infrared instrument on board Webb. With this ability, he will be able to see the glow of cosmic dust and gas directly, rather than through them as is the case with near-infrared instruments. Because it observes longer wavelengths, it needs to be cooled to an even lower temperature: just 7 degrees above absolute zero.
  • the NIRISS (Near-InfraRed Imager and Slitless Spectrograph) is the Canadian scientific instrument. It can collect both images and spectra of thousands of celestial objects simultaneously in the near-infrared. It can also use a technique called interferometry to take pictures of objects that are very close together. To learn more about the four modes of NIRISS, read this CSA blog post or this NASA blog post.

There are a total of 17 different modes that must be checked before the four Webb instruments are considered scientifically ready. (Source: NASA/ESA/CSA)

A total of 17 different modes of the four instruments must be checked before Webb is ready for scientific activities. The Canadian team, including our director René Doyon and many other iREx researchers, were pleased to announce that the NIRISS instrument was the first to be science ready on June 27th! The MIRI team then announced that their instrument also completed full verification of its modes on June 30th. NIRCam and NIRSpec will follow in the next few days.

Hubble’s Ultra Deep Field, an image that required 800 exposures taken during Hubble’s 400 orbits around the world in 2003 and 2004, shows nearly 10,000 galaxies, including some of the most distant galaxies known at the time. (Credit: NASA/ESA/S. Beckwith (STScI)/HUDF team)

To mark the transition from the end of the Webb Telescope’s six-month service to the start of its scientific observations, NASA, ESA, CSA and all other mission partners will broadcast the telescope’s first color images on July 12! During a press conference on June 29, it was announced that this highly anticipated first broadcast will contain the spectrum of an exoplanet’s atmosphere and the deepest image ever taken of the Universe – even deeper than the Hubble telescope’s ultra-deep field .


We invite the world to share this incredible moment with the Webb team and astronomers from around the world:

  • Check the countdown : How many minutes is it until the reveal? The official countdown can be found at https://webb.nasa.gov/content/webbLaunch/countdown.html.
  • Listen live as the first images are unveiled : View the revealed images in real-time and hear the experts discuss these exciting results on NASA TV on July 12 at 10:30 a.m. EDT: https://www.nasa.gov/nasalive .
  • See the first pictures : Are you only interested in the amazing imagery? The first spectra and images can be found at the following address: https://www.nasa.gov/webbfirstimages.
  • Follow the agencies on social networks : Follow the project on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram with @asc_csa, @NASA and @NASAWebb using #UnfoldTheUniverse!
  • Download images : High-resolution downloads and additional content are available at: https://webbtelescope.org/news/first-images.
  • ask your questions : On July 13th, post your questions about these first images and spectra using #UnfoldtheUniverse and you may get the answer on NASA Science Live at: https://www.nasa.gov/nasasciencelive.


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