NASA’s First James Webb Space Telescope Images: How to Watch the Reveal Live

NASA’s First James Webb Space Telescope Images: How to Watch the Reveal Live


NASA’s First James Webb Space Telescope Images: How to Watch the Reveal Live

When the James Webb Space Telescope launched on Christmas Day, space fans were left with a flurry of conflicting emotions. Yes, there was awe, but there was also stress, bewilderment, anxiety, relief, joy, anticipation. Finally, this $10 billion machine was headed towards its home beyond Earth… but after celebrating liftoff, there was months of testing to get through. It’s been a telescope rollercoaster. 

But Webb is safe and sound and it has cast its powerful eye across the universe — and NASA is ready to show off the fruits of its labour. On July 12, NASA will release the first full-fledged images taken by the gold-plated, exoplanet-hunting, stardust-piercing, black hole-seeking JWST. 

Here’s all the details you need to tune in.

One of JWST's scientists is seen reflected in the telescope's mirrors.

Project scientist Mark Clampin is reflected in the flight mirrors at Marshall Space Flight Center during JWST’s construction.

Ball Aerospace

How to catch the first JWST images

The JWST team will host a main event to unveil the telescope’s images in real time on Tuesday, July 12, at 7:30 a.m. PT. You can watch it on NASA TV, seen below. 

Here’s that time around the world.

  • US: 7:30 a.m. PT / 10:30 a.m. ET
  • Brazil: 11:30 a.m. (Federal District)
  • UK: 3:30 p.m.
  • South Africa: 4:30 p.m.
  • Russia: 5:30 p.m. (Moscow)
  • UAE: 6:30 p.m. 
  • India: 8:00 p.m.
  • China: 10:30 p.m.
  • Japan: 11:30 p.m.
  • Australia: July 13, 12:30 a.m. AEST

Also, be sure to check out CNET Highlights, our YouTube channel, for all the big moments.

Can I take a private tour of JWST’s first images?

Yup. If you’re not a huge fan of live unveilings and would rather take it all in without pomp, NASA will also post JWST’s first full-color images and spectral data online here. Adding to the drama, the agency says these pictures will be released “one by one.” 

Edge of our seats, folks. 

You can also say hello to your new screensaver, wallpaper, home decor and personalized coffee mugs by downloading high-resolution versions of JWST science discoveries and other supplemental content.

What should we expect from JWST’s first images?

By now, you might have seen a few preliminary JWST pictures. I know I’ve spent quite a bit of time musing about them. But they’re not exactly the scope’s “first images.”

In short, NASA has to get through a total of 17 testing “modes,” which can be thought of as checkpoints, prior to booting up the telescope. And as the agency has been making its way down the list, we’ve been blessed with a bunch of luminescent, red-orange peeks into JWST’s eventual vision.

A collection of various views of stars from different instruments on the James Webb telescope

You can see an image from all of Webb’s major instruments in this collage.


However, these are pretty much the products of calibrating all the telescope’s instruments — which you can read about in more detail here — not the finalized, highly anticipated conglomerate images scientists are calling JWST’s “first light.” 

But in a press conference held on June 29, NASA members who’ve already caught a glimpse of JWST’s true first light said they were absolutely blown away and almost moved to tears. 

“What I have seen moved me, as a scientist, as an engineer and as a human being,” Pam Melroy, NASA’s deputy administrator, said. 

We do have an idea of what NASA has decided to look at. The five targets for James Webb were revealed on July 8 and include a nebula, a galaxy cluster and even an exoplanet. We don’t have a lot more information than that just yet but what’s certain is that it will be monumental.

That’s because JWST operates differently than other high-tech telescopes, including Hubble. It uses what’s known as infrared imaging to show us a region of the universe we can’t see with our naked eye — and even Hubble can’t see with its ultra-powerful lens. Other space telescopes can see in infrared, but none are as powerful as Webb.

A 3D rendering of how James Webb look in space, fully deployed.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab

What you need to know about infrared imaging

In a nutshell, JWST’s infrared imaging instruments collaborate to detect light emanating from a region of the electromagnetic spectrum that’s invisible to human eyes — the infrared region. This area of the spectrum is vital for mapping the timeline of our universe, but has sort of been missing in previous observations. 

As stars and galaxies move farther and farther away from us, the wavelengths of light they emit continuously stretch out like a rubber band being pulled. Eventually, they get so stretched out that they reach into the infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum. And, because the universe is constantly expanding, the oldest, rarest, probably most valuable stars — and things illuminated by those stars — only show up to us as infrared light. 

So, we can’t see those super far away, really ancient cosmic bodies with our eyes — or even a regular telescope lens, for that matter — even if we squint until our faces hurt and hope until our faith begins to dwindle. 

A diagram of the electromagnetic spectrum, showing what regions Hubble and Webb can see.

This infographic illustrates the spectrum of electromagnetic energy, specifically highlighting the portions detected by NASA’s Hubble, Spitzer, and Webb space telescopes.

NASA and J. Olmsted [STScI]

When JWST looks up at the sky, however, it can show us all that infrared goodness. It will illuminate for us all the stars, galaxies, quasars, black holes and maybe even exoplanets poised to hold life that we can’t see. You can read more about the infrared mechanism here — but basically, think of it as the difference between looking up at the stars from a light-saturated New York City, then again from a dark forest glen. 

Amid the dense foliage, you’d see a whole lot more sparkles even though it’s the same sky. You’re just viewing it unfiltered by light pollution. JWST takes this to the next level… times a million. It’s armed to show us an unfiltered universe.

Hubble has a few infrared detection capabilities, but not nearly as much as JWST. Other space probes, such as the 1989 Cosmic Background Explorer have technically studied a greater distance into the universe than JWST will — but JWST “was designed not to see the beginnings of the universe, but to see a period of the universe’s history that we have not seen yet,” John Mather, senior project scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope, said.

Two views of the Monkey Head Nebula

A comparison of Hubble’s visible and infrared views of the Monkey Head Nebula. While Hubble has some infrared capabilities, it’s nothing compared to Webb.


Potentially, understanding that missing piece of the cosmic puzzle could help us know whether we have the Big Bang’s story correct, how far the universe truly extends and, one day, maybe even show us whether there’s life out there. Or prove to us that we’re alone. 

The possibilities are endless, but they’ll begin to spool out on July 12. Until then, here’s NASA’s JWST first light countdown.

Share this post

Similar Posts