10 mesmerizing images captured by NASA’s James Webb telescope during its first year in space

NASA's James Webb telescope, dubbed as the most powerful telescope in the world was launched into space on December 25, 2021.

NASA’s James Webb telescope has been described as the world’s most powerful telescope. The next-generation observatory, priced at $10 billion was launched atop the Ariane 5 rocket from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana on December 25, 2021. Webb follows in the footsteps of the legendary Hubble but offers glimpses of the universe that were inaccessible to us before. Webb is about 100 times more powerful than Hubble.

The telescope uses infrared light, allowing it to peer past clouds of dust and gas in deep space. That’s why Webb can peer deeper into space — and further back in time — than any prior telescope. Its first deep-field image (shown here) reveals some of the earliest galaxies in the universe. By gathering infrared light, Webb is able to cut through cosmic dust and see far into the past, to the first 400 million years after the Big Bang. Webb shed new light on the iconic Pillars of Creation — giant clouds of gas and dust that constantly birth new stars. In near-infrared light, thousands of stars burst through, including newborn red stars.

Post its first anniversary, here are some incredible images captured by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) in 2022 that have revolutionized space imagery.

1- NGC 7469: A face-on galaxy, with gray spiral arms, sprinkled with bright red patches of star formation. Its center glows brightly and 6 spikes project from it — these are diffraction spikes. In the background are red and white glowing dots, which are other galaxies. Some of the background galaxies are recognizable as spirals.

 

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2- Cosmic cliffs of Carina Nebula: This series of images make up one large landscape as one scrolls right. The full landscape is divided horizontally by an undulating line between a cloudscape forming a nebula along the bottom portion and a comparatively clear upper portion. Speckled across both portions is a starfield. The upper portion of the image is blueish, and has wispy translucent cloud-like streaks rising from the nebula below. The orangish cloudy formation in the bottom half varies in density and ranges from translucent to opaque. The cloud-like structure of the nebula contains ridges, peaks, and valleys – an appearance very similar to a mountain range.⁣

 

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3- Pillars of Creation: Three prominent pillars of semi-opaque gas and dust, in between shades of rust brown and gray-blue, start at the bottom left and reach toward the top right. From left to right, each pillar is consecutively smaller. The background blends from dark blue in the bottom left corner to bright orange-red in the upper right. The strongest bright orange hues dip into a V shape at the top center. Many of the tips of the pillars appear tinged with what looks like lava. Assorted eight-pointed yellow and blue stars litter the scene. There are also tiny orange-red dots at the edges of the pillars, which are newly born stars.⁣

 

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4- Formation of a new star: An hourglass-shaped, multi-color cloud set against the black, starry background of space. This cloud of dust and gas is illuminated by light from a protostar, a star in the earliest stages of formation. The upper “bulb” of the hourglass is orange, while the lower “bulb” transitions from white to dark blue. Together, the two bulbs stretch out like butterfly wings turned 90 degrees to the side. Extending from the upper and lower bulbs are long, wispy filaments of color, looking almost like burning fire. In the center of the hourglass shape is a small, dark demarcation line. This line is an edge-on view of a protoplanetary disk, a disk of material being pulled into a star as it forms.

 

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5- Dwarf galaxy Wolf-Lundmark-Melotte: Dwarf galaxy Wolf-Lundmark-Melotte as viewed by the Webb telescope’s NIRCam instrument. Countless white stars, interspersed with yellow and orange background galaxies of various shapes, dot the black background. One prominent galaxy is a pale yellow spiral in the top left corner of the image. Another defining feature is a large white star with long diffraction spikes, seen just to the right of the top center.

 

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6- Galactic pair IC 1623: A Webb telescope image of galactic pair IC 1623. The two galaxies appear to be swirling together into a blue and pink ball at the center of the frame. Long, blue spiral arms stretch vertically, faint at the edges. Tendrils of hot gas spread horizontally over the blue arms, mainly bright coral pink with many small gold spots of star formation. The very center of this ball of merging galaxies is extremely bright, radiating eight large, golden diffraction spikes. The background is black, with many tiny galaxies in orange and blue.

 

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7- “Bones” of galaxy IC 5332: Image of galaxy IC 5332 as taken by the Webb telescope’s MIRI instrument, resembling gray cobwebs in the shape of a spiral. These “cobwebs” are patterns of gas spread throughout the galaxy. The core of the galaxy glows a dark blue. Stars, seen as tiny blue dots, are scattered throughout the image. There are also sparser, larger red dots spread out among the spiral arms. The background of the image is dark.

 

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8- Stellar nursery 30 Doradus or Tarantula Nebula:  Fluffy tan-colored nebula clouds, with rust-colored highlights, surround a black central area. Within that area, the focal point of the image is one large yellow star with eight long thin points. To the right of this star is a bright star cluster in an oval shape. The stars within the cluster look like tiny pale blue sparkles. The cluster is more densely packed at its core and scatters outward. Towards the bottom of the image, multiple arms appear to spiral out of a cloudy tan knob. Taken together, the structures resemble a spider or a squid. Other blue and yellow eight-pointed stars, as well as distant galaxies, are dotted throughout the image.

 

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9- Group of five galaxies: A group of five galaxies that appear close to each other in the sky: two in the middle, one toward the top, one to the upper left, and one toward the bottom. Four of the five appear to be touching. One is somewhat separated. In the image, the galaxies are large relative to the hundreds of much smaller (more distant) galaxies in the background. All five galaxies have bright white cores. Each has a slightly different size, shape, structure, and coloring. Scattered across the image, in front of the galaxies are number of foreground stars with diffraction spikes: bright white points, each with eight bright lines radiating out from the center.⁣

 

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10- Southern Ring planetary nebula or NGC 3132: The Southern Ring nebula is called a planetary nebula. Despite “planet” in the name, which comes from how these objects first appeared to astronomers observing them hundreds of years ago, these are shells of dust and gas shed by dying Sun-like stars. The new details from Webb will transform our understanding of how stars evolve and influence their environments.

 

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