Scientists Agog Over First Images From the Webb Space Telescope

Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

Scientists may not be able to “know God’s thoughts” as Einstein suggested. But perhaps we can see the universe through His eyes.

The James Webb Space Telescope sent its first images back to earth on Tuesday, and whether you’re a scientific dunce like me or have earned a Ph.D. in astrophysics, the sheer beauty and grandeur contained in the images are a wonder to behold.


Being able to image these brand-new stars is almost miraculous. Webb can do it because it sees the universe in infrared light. Even the dimmest source of light is revealed in infrared.

Webb can also allow us to witness the death of stars. The star at the center of this nebula exploded thousands of years ago.

The pic below is of Stephan’s Quintet, five galaxies in a beautiful and complicated gravitational dance.


Webb’s mission is not specifically geared to finding life, but Webb has been able to detect water vapor on a distant exoplanet.


NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has captured the distinct signature of water, along with evidence for clouds and haze, in the atmosphere surrounding a hot, puffy gas giant planet orbiting a distant Sun-like star.

The observation, which reveals the presence of specific gas molecules based on tiny decreases in the brightness of precise colors of light, is the most detailed of its kind to date, demonstrating Webb’s unprecedented ability to analyze atmospheres hundreds of light-years away.

While the Hubble Space Telescope has analyzed numerous exoplanet atmospheres over the past two decades, capturing the first clear detection of water in 2013, Webb’s immediate and more detailed observation marks a giant leap forward in the quest to characterize potentially habitable planets beyond Earth.


At $10 billion, the Webb space telescope is not a boondoggle, but many people will see it as a waste of money. It can never be a “boondoggle” because it will add several hundred libraries to the sum total of man’s knowledge of the universe and, perhaps, a glimpse at what his place in the cosmos might be.

But even many scientists believe that the $10 billion could have been spent on other worthy astronomical projects. History will judge whether the James Webb Space Telescope actually earned its keep.


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