The most powerful telescope ever launched has returned its first images and they’re breathtaking! The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) project’s first five images cover targets near and far. These photos of space will absolutely floor you.
First up is a galaxy cluster called SMACS 0723 (below). According to NASA, the shot represents a patch of sky approximately the size of a grain of sand held up at arm’s length. Some of the thousands of galaxies are billions of light-years away and include the faintest objects ever observed. In previous deep field views like this, the Hubble didn’t capture those at all, or as much detail on the closer galaxies. The warping of some of the image is an expected result of the gravitational fields of these large celestial objects.
The James Webb Space Telescope was launched in December 2021. It orbits about one million miles from Earth, which is about four times farther out than the moon. Because of its upgraded capabilities, it will be able to photograph and analyze objects that the Hubble Space Telescope can’t. The mirrors collecting light are about six times larger than Hubble’s so it can pick up fainter objects. This leads the images the Webb Telescope delivers to us to be absolutely unbelievable.
The Carina Nebula (above) is a stellar nursery 7,600 light-years away. NASA’s best photo before the James Webb Space Telescope is gorgeous, but the new details and twinkly stars are stunning. It’s one of the largest nebulae, with areas stretching seven light-years across.
The Southern Ring, or Eight-Burst, Nebula (above) is a planetary nebula. Its Hubble photos are also beautiful but the James Webb Space Telescope used two different cameras on board to capture these more detailed images. A dying star expelling dust forms this nebula, rather than the creation of new stars. It’s about 2,500 light-years from Earth.
On NASA’s website, you can track where the telescope is and what mission it is working on.
Much farther away, some 290 million light-years, is Stephan’s Quintet. It’s a cluster of galaxies located in the constellation Pegasus. Discovered in 1877, it was previously photographed by Hubble. The movie It’s a Wonderful Life used an even older image to depict angels speaking to each other in the heavens.
To get ready for the James Webb Space Telescope, NASA released a trailer narrated by Carl Sagan. More recently, Peter Cullen, aka the voice of Optimus Prime and Eeyore, hyped the project. And we can see why. We’ve seen the kind of images the Webb Telescope can deliver and now we are ready for dozens more.
We can’t wait to see more photos from the James Webb Space Telescope. Just like the images and revelations from the Hubble Space Telescope have inspired science fiction for over 30 years, hopefully, insights from the JWST end up in our pop culture too.
Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth.