WASHINGTON (AFP): NASA is set on Wednesday to unveil a new image from the James Webb Space Telescope a year after it first stunned the world with breathtaking views of the distant cosmos.
Webb, the most powerful observatory in orbit, was launched in December 2021 from French Guiana, on a million mile (1.6 million kilometer) voyage to a region called the second Lagrange point.
Its first full colour picture was revealed by President Joe Biden on July 11, 2022: the clearest view yet of the early universe, going back 13 billion years.
The next wave included “mountains” and “valleys” of a star-forming region, dubbed the Cosmic Cliffs, in a region of space called the Carina Nebula; and a grouping of five galaxies bound in a celestial dance, called Stephan’s Quintet.
NASA has remained coy about the nature of Wednesday’s release, which will be made available on its website at 6:00 am Eastern Time (1000 GMT).
Webb boasts a primary mirror measuring more than 21 feet (6.5 meters) that is made up of 18 hexagonal, gold-coated segments, as well as a five-layer sunshield the size of a tennis court.
Unlike its predecessor Hubble, it operates primarily in the infrared spectrum, allowing it to look back nearer towards the start of time, and to better penetrate dust clouds where stars and planetary systems are being formed today.
Key discoveries include some of the earliest galaxies formed a few hundred million years after the Big Bang, finding carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of a planet outside our solar system, and, in our own neck of the woods, stunning new views of the planet Jupiter.
Webb has enough fuel for a 20-year-long mission, promising a new era of astronomy.
It will soon be joined in its orbit by Europe’s Euclid space telescope, which launched on July 1 on a mission to shed light on two of the universe’s greatest mysteries: dark energy and dark matter.