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NASA previews 'emotional' impact of James Webb images ahead of release

NASA said it plans to release the first images from the James Webb Space Telescope on July 12. File Photo courtesy of NASA
NASA said it plans to release the first images from the James Webb Space Telescope on July 12. File Photo courtesy of NASA

June 29 (UPI) -- The highly anticipated first photos from the $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope provided scientists with an emotional experience, NASA officials said Wednesday, two weeks before their public release.

Thomas Zurbuchen, the head of NASA's scientific programs, said the telescope, which was launched into space in December, and its images are shedding light on "a new worldview."

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He and other NASA officials spoke about the new data they're receiving from the telescope during a Wednesday briefing.

"There is already some amazing science in the can, and some [images] are yet to be taken as we go forward. We are in the middle of getting the history-making data down," he said.

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The JWST is the most powerful telescope ever launched into space and will use infrared technology to view objects farther away from Earth than ever before.

It's composed of 18 hexagonal mirrors that, combined, are 21 feet across and its light-collecting area is about six times that of its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope.

NASA previously released some test images the JWST took of a star in the Big Dipper known as HD 84406 as the agency worked to align the mirrors.

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But on July 12, the agency will release images from the telescope's "first light" observations. Officials said the images will include the deepest-field image ever taken of the universe.

Zurbuchen said the first images nearly brought him to tears.

"It's really hard to not look at the universe in a new light and not just have a moment that is deeply personal," he said. "It's an emotional moment when you see nature suddenly releasing some of its secrets, and I would like you to imagine and look forward to that."

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NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy echoed Zurbuchen's assessment of the data.

"What I have seen moved me, as a scientist, as an engineer and as a human being," she said.

Out-of-this-world images from space

The International Space Station is pictured from the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour during a flyaround of the orbiting lab that took place following its undocking from the Harmony module’s space-facing port on November 8. Photo courtesy of NASA

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