At a press conference on Monday, President Joe Biden revealed the very first pictures taken by the James Webb Space Telescope, showing a collection of galaxies that are up to 13 billion years old. Onstage with Vice-President Kamala Harris and NASA administrator Bill Nelson, Biden displayed a preview of what the $10 billion instrument, which is drifting in space one million miles from Earth, is capable of seeing.
“It’s a new window into the history of our universe,” Biden said. “Light from other worlds, orbiting stars far beyond our own … light where stars were born and where they died. Light from the oldest galaxies, the oldest documented light in the history of the universe from over 13 billion years — let me say that again — 13 billion years ago. It’s hard to even fathom.”
NASA made more full-color images and data available on Tuesday:
On Christmas 2021, NASA successfully launched the telescope, a collaboration with the European and Canadian space agencies. Once in space, it took the James Webb a few weeks to unfurl its 21-foot mirror and its sunshield, which is the size of a tennis court. Over its five-to-ten-year life span, the powerful instrument will be able to function more or less as a time machine looking back into the early days of the universe. It is also accurate enough to search for the potential for life by examining the atmosphere of exoplanets.
The James Webb is three times as large and 100 times stronger than the Hubble telescope, which was launched into Earth’s orbit in 1990 and changed our understanding of space with iconic pictures that confirmed the age of the universe and the reality of supermassive black holes. By launching the JWST into orbit around the sun, NASA is expecting fantastic results throughout the decade.