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'Unexpected' NASA James Webb Space Telescope Test Image Will Pump You Up

The glamour shot is among the deepest images of the universe ever taken.

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Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
2 min read
A field of galaxies and stars in shades of orange and yellow with a choppy black border.
Enlarge Image
A field of galaxies and stars in shades of orange and yellow with a choppy black border.

Webb's Fine Guidance Sensor's main job isn't capturing images, but this test image from early May is still a fine example of how far Webb can see. 

NASA, CSA, and FGS team

I feel like I'm having one of those cartoon moments where your eyeballs pop out of the sockets because you're seeing something immensely cool. NASA released a test image from the James Webb Space Telescope this week as an appetizer ahead of the main course of the observatory's first big image reveal on July 12, and it's a beauty.

Webb is on a mission to peer into the early universe, seek out exoplanets and galaxies and tease out new secrets from the cosmos.

The image comes from the Fine Guidance Sensor, or FGS, an instrument with a main purpose of allowing the telescope to point precisely. Essentially, it helps Webb aim at its targets and stay on track to make observations. The FGS view of stars and galaxies is "a tantalizing glimpse at what the telescope's science instruments will reveal in the coming weeks, months, and years,"  NASA said in a statement on Wednesday.

A field of galaxies and stars in shades of orange and yellow with a choppy black border.
Enlarge Image
A field of galaxies and stars in shades of orange and yellow with a choppy black border.

The full image shows a bevy of galaxies and stars (the ones with the points).

NASA, CSA, and FGS team

The stars stand out as the objects with points radiating from them. The other bright objects are galaxies. It's the result of 72 exposures taken over 32 hours in mid-May. It represents one of the deepest images of the universe ever taken. 

The Webb team described the image as "unexpected" and a "glamor shot" in a tweet on Wednesday.

The FGS snap was part of a successful test during a monthslong preparation period before Webb began to conduct science observations in earnest. "In this engineering test, the purpose was to lock onto one star and to test how well Webb could control its 'roll' -- literally, Webb's ability to roll to one side like an aircraft in flight," said NASA.

This preview is enough to get scientists and space fans alike pumped for seeing the first major image release, next week. Said Webb operations scientist Jane Rigby: "The faintest blobs in this image are exactly the types of faint galaxies that Webb will study in its first year of science operations."

When you're through feasting your eyes, be sure to mark your calendar for NASA's July 12 Webb images unveiling. It's going to be a celebration.