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NASA Reveals Cosmic Targets Of JWST’S First Color Images

We finally know what the images will be of.

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Dr. Alfredo Carpineti

Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent

clockJul 8 2022, 16:28 UTC
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The the primary mirror of JWST before launch. Image Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn
The the primary mirror of JWST before launch. Image Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn

A revolutionary way to study the universe is almost here. The JWST, Hubble’s successor, is about to begin its scientific mission and its first real color images will be revealed to the world on Tuesday, July 12. The space observatory has been a long time in the making, and now NASA has revealed the five targets we're going to get a look at.

Next week, we will see how JWST sees the Carina Nebula, one of the brightest and largest in the sky. The JWST infrared observations will bring even more detail to an object that is well studied. The nebula is a stellar nursery, among its wisps and clouds new stars are being born, and JWST has the power to see them clearly. The nebula is located 7,500 light-years from Earth.

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The Carina Nebula seen by Hubble in 2009. Image Credit: NASA, ESA and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team
The Carina Nebula seen by Hubble in 2009. Image Credit: NASA, ESA and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team


Another nebula will also be revealed. The Southern Ring Nebula, roughly 2,000 light-years away, is the expanding shell of gas from a binary star system where a star lost its gassy envelope and turned into a white dwarf.

Southern Ring Nebula seen in Infrared by Spitzer. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/J. Hora (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA)
Southern Ring Nebula seen in Infrared by Spitzer. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/J. Hora (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA)


The third target in our galaxy is exoplanet WASP-96b. We won’t see an image of it. JWST will just take a spectrum of it, to understand in detail the composition of its atmosphere. This distant world is located 1,150 light-years from Earth. It has a mass half that of Jupiter but it orbits its star in just 3.4 days. Back in 2018, it was determined this was the first cloudless exoplanet.

Much further afield is Stephen’s Quintet, one of the oldest known compact groups of galaxies. Four out of the five galaxies are actually a real group in space not just appearing so in the sky. They have been interacting with each other for eons creating structures full of activity that is expected to be spectacular when seen in glorious infrared detail by JWST. The galaxies are located 290 million light-years away.

Stephan's Quintet as seen by Hubble. The non-interacting galaxy is the one at the bottom. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team
Stephan's Quintet as seen by Hubble. The non-interacting galaxy is the one at the bottom. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team


Last but certainly not least is SMACS 0723, a galaxy cluster known for its incredible mass, that some estimates place at around 839 trillion times the mass of our Sun. It is located 4.2 billion light-years away and its enormous mass warps space-time, acting as a gravitational lens magnifying galaxies in the background that are much fainter and a lot further away.

This is just the beginning for JWST, a collaborative effort between the European Space Agency, Canadian Space Agency, and NASA. The comparison between its capabilities and its infrared predecessor Spitzer has blown our minds already and we can’t wait to see these historic images on Tuesday.

Comparison of how much sharper JWST is compared to Spitzer. Image Credit: Spitzer: NASA/JPL-Caltech; MIRI: NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI
Comparison of how much sharper JWST is compared to Spitzer. Image Credit: Spitzer: NASA/JPL-Caltech; MIRI: NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI



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