NASA has just published a first, spectacular image of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). What did you feel when you saw it?
I felt a sense of great joy and satisfaction that everything is working so well. After almost 20 years of development, it is a great moment to finally see the first scientific data.
From a layperson's point of view, the images look spectacular, almost a bit like a scene from Star Wars. What do you see as a scientist?
Galaxies like sand on the seashore. This is just a tiny section of the universe, and we see thousands of galaxies, some of which were formed a few hundred million years after the Big Bang, i.e., objects that are 13.1 billion years old. We see galaxies in all colours and shapes, which can be attributed to the telescope’s choice of colour filters on the one hand and, on the other, to the processes in the galaxies and their distance.
Do the first images meet your expectations?
They exceed them! With the James Webb Space Telescope Deep Field - that's the name of the section that NASA published on 11 July - I, like everyone else, am seeing the sky for the first time through a window that was previously closed. In the past, we could only guess what we might see there. In the images released this afternoon, we see galaxies and nebulae in such sharp focus and such detail that it left me almost speechless. I certainly got goose bumps.
What else can we expect?
A great deal. These are just the very first images, a kind of preview of what is to come. The Hubble telescope has always delivered new and fantastic images, and so will JWST. In addition to the images, there are all the spectra and data, which may not look so beautiful, but are all the more interesting scientifically.
What do you hope for as the mission progresses?
I anticipate that the limits of our imagination will once again be expanded and that we will be surprised by nature with its incredible beauty and diversity. Personally, I am looking forward to exploring the atmospheres of exoplanets - planets orbiting stars other than the Sun. JWST will have a lot of potential to advance this field of research by exponential orders of magnitude.