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What to expect when NASA unveils the first images from the James Webb Space Telescope

This artist's conception shows what the James Webb Space Telescope looks like in space, now that all of its main components are deployed.
Adriana Manrique Gutierrez, NASA Animator
This artist's conception shows what the James Webb Space Telescope looks like in space, now that all of its main components are deployed.

Beginning Monday at 5 p.m., NASA will release the first images captured by the James Webb Space Telescope. Among them, the agency says, "will be the deepest image of the universe ever captured."

President Joe Biden will release the first image from the White House at 5 p.m. ET. The preview will stream live on NASA's website.

More images are expected to be released Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. ET. These full color images will also include the atmosphere of an exoplanet, according to NASA. That's a planet orbiting another star.

Cincinnati Observatory Astronomer Dean Regas is eagerly awaiting the release.

"For astronomers, the anticipation has been killing us since this telescopelaunched in December," he says. "It's now a million miles away from Earth, and we've been waiting for these pictures anxiously. I know for me, I've had this date, July 12, on my calendar, waiting to see these great pictures hopefully come in."

The Webb is the biggest and most powerful space telescope ever. It should be able to see back to when the first stars and galaxies formed more than 13.5 billion years ago. It will be able to see back to 100 million to 200 million years after the Big Bang.

The image resolution is expected to be much higher than its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, with a greater sensitivity, and it is fully adjustable in space.

Regas explains the images will differ by mostly being on the infrared spectrum.

"This isn't like the visible wavelength of light," he says. "I'm curious about what the pictures are going to look like exactly. We're used to those pretty colorful Hubble telescope images of swirling nebulas and clouds of gas dust and galaxies. This is going to have a little different color to it, but probably an unbelievable amount of resolution. That's what I'm expecting — is we're going to be able to see things in great detail. Where we're looking at big structures with the Hubble telescope, this is going to zoom in a lot more."

Regas theorizes some of the first images could include planet forming regions — places where the aforementioned exoplanets are formed — as well as a much better look at galaxies in general.

"The Hubble telescope had that deep field picture where they showed dozens and dozens — hundreds — of galaxies in one field of view," Regas says. "I'm looking forward to something a little like that, that might be even 100 times better."

Updated: July 11, 2022 at 2:29 PM EDT
Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.