NASA's James Webb Space Telescope: Here's What You'll See in the First Images

The images are set to drop during a press event on Tuesday, but here's what NASA is going to show off.

Eric Mack Contributing Editor
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Eric Mack
2 min read
A portion of the Carina Nebula

The Gemini South Telescope delivered this view of the western wall of the Carina Nebula.

International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA

NASA, along with the European and Canadian space agencies, will be releasing the first science images from the brand new James Webb Space Telescope on Tuesday, and now we know what celestial bodies we'll be seeing in those historic pictures.

JWST is the long-awaited successor to the Hubble Space Telescope that finally launched on Christmas Day after years of delays. 

On Friday, NASA revealed the list of cosmic objects that JWST will target for its first batch of full-color images offering unprecedented and detailed views of deep space. If the telescope's stunning first test image is any indication, it's going to be as good as any Instagram feed out there. 

The targets include the Carina Nebula and Southern Ring Nebula, which are bright areas of gas and other material. The Carina Nebula (pictured above) is a so-called stellar nursery where stars are forming, and it's filled with massive stars that help make it one of the largest and brightest nebulas in the sky. The Southern Ring Nebula is a planetary nebula -- in this case, a wide cloud of gas half a light-year in diameter surrounding a dying star -- and relatively close on a cosmic scale, at just 2,000 light-years away.

The southern ring nebula in shades of turquoise and yellow

The southern ring nebula is also known as the "Eight-Burst" Nebula because of it appears to be a figure-8 when seen through some telescopes.

NASA/The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA/NASA)

Two other targets we'll see in fantastic high resolution next week are the galaxy group Stephan's Quintet, a particularly photogenic grouping of galaxies that seem to be dancing around each other for eternity, and SMACS 0723, which is a massive galaxy cluster that can act as a so-called gravitational lens to help scientists see deeper into space and observe fainter galaxies.

A cluster of galaxies

This quintet of galaxies is made up of four galaxies that are actually near each other and a fifth that appears nearby but is really in the foreground and much closer to Earth.

NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team

JWST also is taking a look at the planet WASP-96b, a gas giant world about half the mass of Jupiter and located 1,150 light-years from Earth. The powerful new instruments on the space telescope should be able to provide new insights into the composition of the planet's atmosphere and a fun teaser of what we'll soon discover about other exoplanets, including those that are more Earth-like. 

The images that the space agencies will unveil on July 12 are just the beginning. Scientists have applied to use the telescope through a competitive process, and the first year of observations have already been scheduled. It's quite likely that JWST will change our perspective on some aspects of the universe in the months and years to come.