On the 11th of July astronomers, scientists and space enthusiasts everywhere waited excitedly for President Joe Biden to unveil the first deep field image taken by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) at a press conference broadcast from the White House. The image was breath taking and perhaps exceeded everyone’s expectation. The photograph is the deepest infrared photograph ever taken of the Universe - a cluster of galaxies within the southern constellation of Volans called SMACS 0723. The composite image was created from just 12.5 hours of observation time using one of the telescope’s four instruments.
The JWST was launched on the 25th of December 2021 and is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. Hubble and Webb have very different capabilities – Hubble operates in the ultraviolet, visible and parts of near infrared wavelengths whilst Webb operates in the near-infrared and mid-infrared enabling Webb to look further and deeper into the Universe. The European Space Agency states that the telescope is 100 times more sensitive than Hubble and will be able to peer inside dust clouds where stars and planets are forming and look further back in time to view stars and galaxies that formed during the early Universe.
Webb has a much larger mirror than Hubble spanning a diameter of 6.5 metres compared to Hubble’s 2.4 metre mirror. The primary mirror comprises 18 hexagonal mirror segments enabling a larger light collecting area that can produce much more detailed and clearer photographs. The four first full-colour photographs released on the 12th of July are proof of just how spectacular and capable the telescope is. The photograph of the Carina Nebula for example, a cloud of gas and dust spattered with sparkling stars almost looks three-dimensional and to the untrained eye would certainly be mistaken for an image of mountains and valleys. Check them out here!
When I heard the news that the USPS are to launch a set of Forever stamps on the 8th of September this year to celebrate the JWST I was delighted- it has happened a lot sooner than I expected and will be a welcome addition to astrophilatelist’s collections. The clarity and detail of the new images that Webb can produce should make excellent future stamp issues. It is always hard to predict what new stamps may be issued in any year without some insider knowledge, but I would expect to see at some point in the near future, the four recently released images on a set of stamps. Perhaps these would be issued to celebrate our wonderful Universe or an up-coming milestone anniversary commemorating the launch of the JWST and its achievements. It really is an exciting time for astronomy and philately -there is so much to look forward to and not just surrounding the JWST. I am hopeful that we will see stamp issues celebrating the OSIRIS-Rex mission which in 2023 will return samples from near Earth asteroid Bennu to Earth and of course, stamps celebrating humankind’s return to the Moon in 2025 when NASA plan to send the first woman to the lunar surface. Watch this ‘space’!
Katrin Raynor Evans
Katrin Raynor-Evans lives in South Wales and is a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and Royal Geographical Society. She is a member of the European Astronomical Society and Astro Space Stamp Society. In her spare time, she writes articles and interviews for popular astronomy magazines including the BBC Sky at Night and has just recently taken up an editorial role commissioning features for the Society for Popular Astronomy’s magazine, Popular Astronomy. Her philatelic interests are mainly focused on astronomy, but she also enjoys sourcing and writing about stamps ranging from geology, meteorology, science and nature.
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