Earlier this year, NASA unveiled the first image from the James Webb Space Telescope — a frozen frame that represented the deepest and sharpest infrared image of the universe humanity has ever seen.
In the months that followed, the $10 billion telescope, named after the NASA administrator who served during the 1960s, revealed more awe-inspiring glimpses of outer space in stunning detail. Unfathomably immense dying stars expelling gas and dust into the void and nebulas invisible to the naked eye were captured in ways that captivated scientists and amateur star gazers alike.
The telescope’s first steps in 2022 have fundamentally transformed the expectations of astronomy and garnered new excitement for its unbounded potential in the years to come.
Here are five memorable images taken by the James Webb Space Telescope over the past year.
The first image released by the James Webb Space Telescope, called SMACS 0723, showed numerous galaxies shining around one another in a sliver of the universe equivalent to the space taken up by a grain of sand at arms-length against the sky.
“This mission was made possible by human ingenuity – the incredible NASA Webb team and our international partners at the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in a release. “Webb is just the start of what we can accomplish in the future when we work together for the benefit of humanity.”
The nebulous Cosmic Cliffs, an area of the Carina Nebula known as a cradle of star formation, presented the dramatic chaos of interstellar energy and was made possible from the telescope’s sensitivity to infrared light, enabling it to see through space dust that normally clouds our view.
The Webb Space Telescope’s capabilities enable scientists to find the most elusive phases of star formation and bring them into focus in ways that were not possible before.
The James Webb Space Telescope peered into the Cartwheel Galaxy, named for its wheel-like appearance. The unique stellar phenomena occurred after a high-speed collision between two galaxies triggered a cascading of smaller galactic events.
The image captured the bright inner ring of the galaxy and its colorful outer ring, located 500 million light-years away, and provided an entirely new perspective on the changing mechanisms underway in the Cartwheel Galaxy over the course of billions of years.
SOUTHERN RING NEBULA
Images of the Southern Ring Nebula, located about 2,500 light-years away, was among the first data from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope parsed by scientists.
It showed at least two previously-unseen stars, and using the telescope’s infrared abilities enabled researchers to newly-find the precise pinpoint of the nebula’s central star before it died and sent its mass hurdling outwards into space.
The iconic Pillars of Creation, famously imaged by NASA’s Hubble Telescope, was seen in an entirely new perspective in 2022 after the James Webb Space Telescope utilized near-infrared light to pierce through clouds that previously muddled earlier photos.
Located in the Eagle Nebula about 7,000 light-years from Earth, the newest image showcased the uniquely-shaped columns of gas and dust that seem translucent under the telescope’s piercing eyes. NASA said the new view of the nebula will enable researchers to gain new insight into how stars are formed over the course of millions of years.