The $10 billion James Webb telescope, which replaced the aging Hubble telescope and launched into space in December 2021, has captured distant galaxies, blazing stars light years away and a new image of Jupiter.
Here are five of the most stunning photos taken by James Webb to date.
Southern Ring Nebula
One of the most widely circulated across the web is of the Southern Ring Nebula, which was among the first Webb photos released on July 12.
Webb captured the remains of a white dwarf — the remnant of a star that has burned up all its nuclear fuel and expelled its outer shell into a planetary nebula.
The telescope collected the images in infrared light. Compared to Hubble, the James Webb telescope can capture space in the infrared with much more power, “providing never-before-seen vistas of the universe,” NASA officials wrote on the agency’s website.
NASA released an image of the Southern Ring Nebula in near-infrared light (NIRcam) and mid-infrared (MIRcam), with the former closer to a visible wavelength the normal human eye can see, making its images more colorful and high-resolution.
The MIRcam, however, can pick up objects in more detail. For example, the mid-infrared image of Southern Ring Nebula shows a clearer image of a bright star, gleaming in the background just beyond the white dwarf.
Another popular image is the Cosmic Cliffs, the edge of a forming star region that NASA compared to “craggy mountains on a moonlit evening.”
The young, star-forming region called NGC 3324 is more than 7,000 light years away in the Carina Nebula. NASA’s photos of this spot in the universe reveal a massive, gaseous cavity on the edge of NGC 3324 in a collage of orange and blue.
“The cavernous area has been carved from the nebula by the intense ultraviolet radiation and stellar winds from extremely massive, hot, young stars located in the center of the bubble,” officials wrote on the website.
In NIRcam, viewers can see hundreds of stars hidden from the normal human eye, as well as numerous galaxies shimmering in the background.
NGC 3324 was first recorded by astronomer James Dunlop in 1826.
This Aug. 2 photo of the Cartwheel Galaxy bears similarity to a bright red, galactic ferris wheel in space.
The Cartwheel Galaxy formed about 400 million years ago, the result of high-speed collisions. Webb captured it forming in a “transitory phase,” because images of the universe light-years away are peering into the past, due to the time it takes to reach and record them.
This spiral galaxy is composed of two rings, a brighter inner ring and a colorful outer ring, according to NASA. Inside the cartwheel are spokes, or bright red streaks created by glowing, hydrocarbon-rich dust.
Webb’s newest image released this week is a gorgeous image of Earth’s neighbor in the solar system.
A composite of three filters, the image of Jupiter reveals “hazes swirling around the northern and southern poles” of the gaseous planetary giant.
It also highlights the Great Red Spot, a storm so large that it that would swallow Earth, in a large white band around the gas giant.
Imke de Pater, a professor emerita of the University of California, Berkeley, who co-led the observations of Jupiter, said the team was surprised by the details of the planet.
“We hadn’t expected it to be this good,” Pater said in a statement on NASA’s blog. “It’s really remarkable that we can see details on Jupiter together with its rings, tiny satellites, and even galaxies in one image.”
Galaxy cluster SMACS 0723
While appearing a bit cluttered, this image is stunning because it shows thousands of galaxies in a distant cluster known as SMACS 0723.
This image, among the first photos released by Webb on July 12, is the first deep-field image from the telescope.
In the center of the image is a bright, white elliptical galaxy that outshines the rest, stretching its pointed arms in five directions. Surrounding it are galaxies of all shapes and sizes, flooding the image and demonstrating just how massive the universe is.
This image was landmark, NASA wrote in July, as it showcased how Webb “will allow future researchers to finely catalog the precise compositions of galaxies in the early universe, which may ultimately reshape our understanding of how galaxies changed and evolved over billions of years.”