Home LATEST NEWS The first observations of the James Webb telescope unveiled on Tuesday

The first observations of the James Webb telescope unveiled on Tuesday


NASA claims that the quality of these observations will reveal the exceptional scientific capabilities of the instruments of this technological jewel worth 14 billion Canadian dollars.

We can’t wait! People at NASA said the images brought tears to their eyes, so our expectations are really highenthuses Nathalie Ouellette, scientist in charge of communications for James Webb in Canada, and coordinator of the Institute for research on exoplanets (iREx).

Artistic illustration of a mirror in space.

Artistic illustration showing the appearance of the Webb Telescope deployed in space.


The results, presented by NASA in collaboration with the European (ESA) and Canadian space agencies, will be unveiled at a press conference to be held at 10:30 a.m. at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center near Washington.

A few Canadian mission leaders, including Professor René Doyon of the University of Montreal, will be present. For her part, Nathalie Ouellette will attend the conference at the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), in Saint-Hubert, with colleagues and will answer questions from the media.

The goal [de la présentation] is to show the telescope’s ability to study a range of different celestial objects. »

A quote from Nathalie Ouellette, coordinator of the Institute for Research on Exoplanets

The event will be followed around the world by astrophysical research teams and astronomy enthusiasts. NASA disclosed some targets from the initial observations earlier this week.

We already know that the spectrum of the atmosphere of an exoplanet will be presented, which is very excitingsays Nathalie Ouellette.

This exoplanet is called WASP-96. Its spectrum should provide essential information on the chemical and molecular elements of its atmosphere. It could also make it possible to understand how a planet was formed, but also to know if it shelters elements revealing the presence of life.

Besides the exoplanet, here are four celestial bodies observed:

  • the Carina Nebula, one of the largest and brightest in the sky;
Colorful clouds and dots on black background.

The Carina Nebula as seen by Hubble in visible light (left) and infrared (right). The Webb Telescope will provide a new portrait of the celestial object.

Photo: NASA/ESA/Hubble

  • the Southern Ring Nebula, an expanding cloud of gas around a dying star;
  • Stephan’s Quintet, a compact group of galaxies;
  • SMACS 0723, a massive galaxy cluster.

The most anticipated element of the conference remains without a doubt the unveiling of the most profound image ever taken of the Universe. A feat that promises to surpass the record set by Hubble with its ultra-deep field that revolutionized astronomy in 2004.

Hubble's ultra-deep field.  Many colored dots on a black background.

Hubble’s ultra-deep field, an image that required 800 exposures taken during Hubble’s 400 orbits around Earth in 2003 and 2004, shows nearly 10,000 galaxies, including some of the most distant galaxies known at that time.


At the time, Hubble collected visible and near-infrared radiation covering 30 millionths of a tiny region of the Northern Hemisphere celestial sphere, resulting in a spectacular image showing thousands of galaxies of different ages, shapes and sizes. various colors, some of which existed when the Universe was only 800 million years old.

Galactic appetizer

As a prelude, the three partner agencies in the Webb mission released an image of stars and galaxies last Wednesday that gives a glimpse of the power of the space observatory.

Many luminous dots on a black background.

Image captured during a test conducted in May with the Webb Telescope’s Canadian Precision Guidance Sensor. It provides a remarkable insight into the power of the space observatory.


Captured last May, this image of the star HD147980 is the result of 72 exposures over 32 hours. It represents an overlap of observations that have not been optimized to detect faint objects. However, the picture still reveals objects of very low light.

This fantastic image shows that the FGS performs so well that it could also be used for scientific purposes, even if it was not designed for that in the first place. »

A quote from Nathalie Ouellette, coordinator of the Institute for Research on Exoplanets

For the moment, it is the deepest image of the Universe in the infrared. But the reality could change on Tuesday.

Canadian contribution

The James Webb Telescope is able to look farther into the Universe than any other telescope thanks to its huge main mirror and its four instruments that perceive infrared signals, which allow it to pierce through clouds of dust.

Canada is providing two of the four Webb mission-critical instruments: NIRISS (for near-infrared slitless imager and spectrograph) and FGS (precision guidance sensor).

NIRISS collected some of the data that will be shared at the press conference, along with the US NIRCam, the mission’s primary imager.

NIRISS has specialized imaging capabilities for studying the atmospheres of exoplanets and very distant galaxiesnotes Nathalie Ouellette.

As for the FGS, its work is also at the heart of Tuesday’s announcements, and all those that will follow, since it is the guiding detector that allows the telescope to point an object and make observations with stability and precision. It is also thanks to the FGS and the NIRCam imager that James Webb was able to sketch the portrait of the star HD147980.

The FGS is like the eye of the telescope. »

A quote from Nathalie Ouellette, coordinator of the Institute for Research on Exoplanets

The NIRISS and the FGS were designed by a team co-led by Pr René Doyon from the University of Montreal.

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A new era of exploration

Launched on December 25 from French Guiana, the Webb telescope reached its workplace 1.5 million kilometers from Earth in January.

Its structures and scientific instruments are now deployed, calibrated and tested.

The results published on Tuesday thus mark the transition between the commissioning phase of the telescope and the start of its scientific mission.

During the first five months of the mission, James Webb’s instruments will be used exclusively by the teams associated with the thirteen initial observing programs which were selected following a competition based on their scientific interest in astronomy research. .

Several Canadian and Quebec scientists participate in these programs.

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