The cutting-edge, $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) shared its debut image with the world on July 12, 2022, peering deeper into the universe than any telescope before it. Since then, JWST has captured the mystery and beauty of the cosmos in image after dazzling image, captivating curious Earthlings everywhere. Here are 19 of the telescope’s finest observations.
The Pillars of Creation
The towering pillars of creation – a vast span of sculptured gas and dust located about 6,500 light-years from Earth in the Eagle Nebula – have been a famous Milky Way landmark since the Hubble Space Telescope observed them in 1995. JWST's shimmering portrait of the iconic structures could help scientists uncover new insights into how stars are born, and how they shape the space around them.
Webb's deep field
JWST's debut image is also the deepest and most detailed image of the universe ever taken. At the dazzling, jewel-filled image's center, a bright cluster of galaxies magnifies the light of stars more than 13 billion light-years away, while thousands of younger galaxies cartwheel through the background.
The 'Phantom Galaxy'
Like a celestial nautilus shell, the eerie 'Phantom Galaxy' swirls through space about 32 million light-years from Earth. Scientists call it a "grand design spiral," due to how prominent and well-defined the galaxy's spiral arms are.
'Mountains' of the Carina Nebula
One of JWST's debut images was this cosmic landscape painting of the Carina Nebula, located about 7,600 light-years from Earth. Lit up and sculpted by the radiation of baby stars, this is one of the most active star-forming regions ever discovered.
Stephan's Quintet, a group of five tightly-bound galaxies located 290 million light-years away in the Pegasus constellation, is what happens when one part of space gets too crowded. Four of the tight-knit galaxies continuously swoop past one another in a dangerous dance of near-collisions, slowly warping and stretching the stars between them.
The Southern Ring nebula
Also called the "Eight-Burst nebula" for its figure-eight shape, the Southern Ring nebula is a gargantuan cloud of gas and dust expelled by a dying star some 2,500 light-years away. JWST imaged the stellar graveyard with two cameras, revealing more details in the nebula's gas structures in the left image, and a secret, second star hiding at the center of the right image.
The Cartwheel Galaxy
The aptly named Cartwheel Galaxy, located about 500 light-years from Earth, is a spectacular spiral galaxy shrouded in hot dust. Once, it likely looked very similar to the Milky Way — however, an ancient collision with a smaller galaxy gave it this distinct wagon-wheel-like shape.
Ghostly rings of Neptune
Saturn is the undisputed poster child of planetary rings, but in this gauzy JWST image Neptune gives the champ a run for its money. Neptune, the eighth planet from the sun, has five rings made of icy dust, which are rarely visible due to the planet's position on the far end of the solar system. Here, they sparkle like crystals.
Located just a few hundred light-years from Earth, the Orion constellation is home to some of the largest and brightest stars in the sky (including the infamous red star Betelgeuse). This JWST image ignores Orion's infamous belt to focus instead on his sword, where the Orion nebula — one of the biggest, brightest star-forming regions in the sky — lurks.
A fiery hourglass
A young star blasts streams of gas into surrounding dust clouds, creating a fiery hourglass within the constellation Taurus.
The Tarantula Nebula
Stretching 340 light-years across, the Tarantula nebula stretches spindly legs of gas around a cosmic cavity carved by newborn stars.
Eerie Einstein ring
Like a cosmic bullseye, this trippy deep-space object is called an Einstein ring. Named for Albert Einstein, who predicted that massive objects in space could magnify or lens the light of objects far behind them, the eerily perfect circle is an illusion created by warped space-time.
'Bones' of a spiral galaxy
This cosmic knot of gas, dust and stars belongs to the spiral galaxy IC 5332, located in the constellation Sculptor more than 29 million light-years from Earth. As it sits nearly perfectly face-on with respect to Earth, its spiral arms can be seen incredibly clearly.
Ghostly Pillars of Creation
A ghostly shroud of dust cloaks the infamous Pillars of Creation in this showcase of JWST's mid-infrared instrument (MIRI). Unlike the more colorful view of the Pillars shared earlier, the stars hidden within the dust clouds aren't bright enough to appear for MIRI, creating a spooky and somber portrait.
A galactic collision
A pair of colliding galaxies, called IC 1623, plunge into one another, igniting a burst of star formation. This chaotic process may well be creating a new supermassive black hole at the center of the two galactic behemoths.
A 'knot' of galaxies in the early universe
No less than five galaxies cluster together around an enormous, ancient black hole known as a quasar. This cluster, located 11.5 billion light-years away, is one of the most ancient objects imaged by JWST so far.
Webb's first direct image of an Exoplanet
In this image, JWST captures its first-ever image of an exoplanet, or a planet outside our solar system. The planet, named HIP 65426 b, is a gas giant up to 8 times more massive than Jupiter and located 349 light-years from Earth.
Jupiter's Great Red Spot
Jupiter's Great Red Spot glows brightly in this rare JWST image or our own solar system. Off to the left, Jupiter's moon, Europa, makes a cameo appearance.
Starlight, star bright
Six points of light shine out of each star in this golden test image taken before JWST's official debut. In the background, millions of distant galaxies glow.
Editor's note: This article was edited on Dec. 5, 2022 to correct a typo suggesting that JWST's image of exoplanet HIP 65426 b was the first image of an exoplanet ever taken. Rather, it is the first direct image of an exoplanet taken by the JWST.