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NASA scientists say images from the Webb telescope nearly brought them to tears

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope was placed in Johnson Space Center’s historic Chamber A for vacuum testing on June 20, 2017.

Enlarge / NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope was placed in Johnson Space Center’s historic Chamber A for vacuum testing on June 20, 2017. (credit: NASA)

Six months have passed since a European rocket lofted the James Webb Space Telescope into orbit. Since that time, the ultra-complex telescope has successfully unfolded its expansive sunshield, commissioned its science instruments, and reached an observation point hundreds of thousands of kilometers from Earth.

This white-knuckle period in space followed nearly two decades of effort to design, build, and test the telescope on Earth prior to its launch on Christmas Day, 2021. But now, all of that effort is in the rearview mirror, and Webb’s massive 6.5-meter diameter mirror is gazing outward and collecting scientific data and images. It is the largest and most powerful telescope that humans have ever put into space, and it’s already revealing new insights about our cosmos.

“The images are being taken right now,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, who leads NASA’s scientific programs, during a news conference on Wednesday. “There is already some amazing science in the can, and some others are yet to be taken as we go forward. We are in the middle of getting the history-making data down.”

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