NASA releases first full set of images from $10B James Webb Space Telescope

This image of the Carina Nebula was the fifth and final image from the James Webb Space Telescope to be released by NASA on Tuesday. The space agency said it shows "cosmic cliffs and a sea of stars." Image courtesy NASA
1 of 10 | This image of the Carina Nebula was the fifth and final image from the James Webb Space Telescope to be released by NASA on Tuesday. The space agency said it shows "cosmic cliffs and a sea of stars." Image courtesy NASA | License Photo

July 12 (UPI) -- NASA on Tuesday unveiled its first full collection of images taken by the James Webb Space Telescope -- showcasing the type of photos that engineers had in mind when they first conceived of the telescope in the 1990s.

The space agency unveiled the collection of five images from the $10 billion telescope during an event late Tuesday morning at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The images were simultaneously released on social media and the NASA website.


"These first images from the world's largest and most powerful space telescope will demonstrate Webb at its full power as it begins its mission to unfold the infrared universe," NASA said in a statement before Tuesday's event.


The first image showed a "deep field" of stars, and was the same photo unveiled at the White House on Monday by President Joe Biden. NASA said it's the deepest infrared image of the universe ever taken.

The second photo was a shot of an exoplanet that's located about 1,000 light years away from the Earth. It shows the signature of water on the gas planet, known as WASP 96-b.

"For the first time, we've detected evidence of clouds in this exoplanet's atmosphere," NASA said.

The third image, NASA said, was the first ever taken of a planetary nebula, or a dying star. The photo shows colorful gases and rays surrounding the nebula.

"In these images of the Southern Ring planetary nebula, [the telescope] shows a dying star cloaked by dust and layers of light," the space agency said.

The fourth image showed a galaxy cluster -- four galaxies merging together -- called Stephan's Quintet, which is surrounded by huge shockwaves and tidal tails.

"This is a front-row seat to galactic evolution," NASA said on the image.

The fifth and final image released on Tuesday was perhaps the most spectacular. It shows the Carina Nebula, a large area of bright and dark nebulosity in the constellation Carina. It is located about 7,600 light years away from the Earth.


"Cosmic cliffs and a sea of stars," NASA said. "[The Webb telescope] reveals baby stars in the Carina Nebula, where ultraviolet radiation and stellar winds shape colossal walls of dust and gas."

"What a banner day," NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said after the images were unveiled. "We don't want to ever stop exploring the heavens, nor stop daring to take another step forward for humanity."

Following the live broadcast, officials from NASA, the Canadian Space Agency and the European Space Agency were set to hold a joint media briefing.

"These images are going to remind the world that America can do big things and remind the American people, especially our children that there's nothing beyond our capacity," Biden said at Monday's unveiling of the first image. "We can see possibilities no one has ever seen before, we can go places no one has ever gone before."

The James Webb is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, with its primary mirror stretching 21 feet across -- nearly three times larger than Hubble -- allowing it to collect more light and look farther into the universe. NASA scientists first began planning the James Webb Space Telescope in the early 1990s as a future successor to Hubble.


At the White House event Monday, Nelson said the telescope is so powerful that it will allow NASA to observe the chemical composition of other planets and determine if they are habitable.

Last week, scientists described an image captured during testing to see how long the telescope can maintain a steady lock on a distant target, such as a galaxy or star as "among the deepest images of the universe ever taken."

NASA last month also previewed the emotional impact of images from the James Webb as Thomas Zurbuchen, head of the space agency's scientific programs, 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."

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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