Launched in December, it is now roughly a million miles away from Earth, and that vantage point means some stunning images that give humanity the best look yet at the farthest reaches of the universe.
More images were released on Tuesday, and in Fairfax County, students taking part in summer learning programs got their first look with a NASA Solar System Ambassador in Burke, Virginia.
And the images released Tuesday — of regions such as the Carina Nebula, Stephan’s Quintet and the Southern Ring Nebula – made an impression.
“It’s really just mind-blowing,” said student Gideon Lovern. “It just really paints a picture.”
Another student, Kaylee Bryson, was already familiar with the telescope’s potential. She went to Space Camp in Alabama and had seen presentations on its capability.
“I was really intrigued about the way it folded, and all the science behind the amazing mirrors,” said Bryson, who wants to work for NASA. “I just loved it from the start. Now that I’ve seen [the images], it just blew my mind.”
The NASA volunteer on hand at Lake Braddock Secondary School was also impressed, and he hopes that this tool with vast potential will inspire students to pursue a career in space.
“To see this stuff, it’s just mind blowing,” said Brian Cummins, who is also an amateur astronomer and astrophotographer.
He said the telescope is so powerful that from Earth, it could see the infrared light coming off a bumble bee on the moon. And while the telescope will no doubt yield new discoveries to scientists, it will also yield reminders of humanity’s place in the universe.
“We live on a sort of small planet, in the suburb of a very regular galaxy, of which, everywhere we look, there’s galaxies everywhere. It does make you feel really small,” he said.
“… But the relationships and what we can do for our fellow man and what we’re learning about the universe — those are big things, right? So it’s kind of a cool dichotomy.”
That sense of perspective wasn’t lost on Bryson: “It really makes you think about how tiny we are,” she said, “and if, like, if this universe is so big, maybe there are others out there.”
WTOP’s Gigi Barnett contributed to this report.