28 Beautiful James Webb Telescope Images That Capture The Majesty Of Our Universe
By Erin Kelly | Edited By Jaclyn Anglis
Published November 26, 2022
From the Cartwheel Galaxy to the Cosmic Cliffs of the Carina Nebula, discover some of the most incredible photos taken by the James Webb Telescope.
Launched on December 25, 2021, the James Webb Space Telescope is the largest and most sensitive observatory ever sent into space. Building the telescope was a massive undertaking for NASA, one that took about 20 years and $10 billion. But many experts think that the images taken by the James Webb Space Telescope prove it was worth the trouble.
Just months after its launch, the James Webb Space Telescope had already returned information on two newfound galaxies, including GLASS-z13, one of the most distant galaxies ever discovered, according to Quanta Magazine.
Pictures like these astounded even seasoned astronomers, who were thrilled to see new parts of the remote cosmos as they appeared billions of years ago. But this is just the beginning. More James Webb Telescope images will be arriving for as long as the observatory lasts, perhaps for up to 10 years.
Experts have estimated that the universe is about 13.8 billion years old, and the hope is that the James Webb Space Telescope can explore as much of that cosmic history as possible. See some of the most incredible James Webb Telescope images captured so far in the photo gallery below.
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The Cosmic Cliffs, or the edge of a star-forming region called NGC 3324. This stunning sight is located in the Carina Nebula, about 7,600 light-years away. Captured by the James Webb Space Telescope, this image reveals previously obscured areas of star birth.NASA/Webb
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This image of the Cartwheel Galaxy (and its companion galaxies) is a composite from the James Webb Space Telescope's Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI). This galaxy, which is located about 500 million light-years away, originally formed as the result of a high-speed collision between a large galaxy and a smaller one.NASA/Webb
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Located about 161,000 light-years away, the Tarantula Nebula is a massive star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud Galaxy. Here, the James Webb Space Telescope's NIRCam captures the nebula in a whole new light with some never-before-seen stars.NASA/Webb
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A huge mosaic of Stephan's Quintet, a group of five galaxies. Though the leftmost galaxy is actually much closer to Earth than the others (40 million light-years vs. 290 million light-years), it doesn't make the grouping any less striking. This picture, captured by the Webb's NIRCam and MIRI, required over 150 million pixels and 1,000 image files to create.NASA/Webb
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The James Webb Space Telescope (left) sees ribbonlike channels of star formation in galaxy NGC 7496 that the Hubble (right) could not. Even more incredible, this galaxy is about 24 million light-years away.NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI/Judy Schmidt
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Galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 boasts several distinct colors when viewed in the Webb's mid-infrared light (left), compared to the Webb's near-infrared light (right). NASA/Webb
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Spiral Galaxy IC 5332 has a diameter of roughly 66,000 light-years, which means it's about two-thirds the size of the Milky Way. This galaxy is notable for facing Earth head-on, granting us this magnificent view.NASA/Webb
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This image of spiral galaxy NGC 1300 combines observations from a variety of sources, including infrared images from the Webb, ultraviolet light captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, data from the Very Large Telescope’s Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer, and radio light observed by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA).NASA/ESA/ESO-Chile/ALMA/NAOJ/NRAO/Alyssa Pagan
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This newfound remote galaxy, dubbed GLASS-z13, is so old that it dates back to 300 million years after the Big Bang.Naidu et al/P. Oesch/T. Treu/GLASS-JWST/ NASA/CSA/ESA/STScI
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Known as the Wolf-Rayet 140, this pair of stars regularly produces dust rings about every eight years because of how the stars orbit and interact. This fascinating cosmic "fingerprint" is located about 5,000 light-years away.NASA/JPL
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Even familiar sights in our solar system can be observed in a new light thanks to the James Webb Space Telescope. Here, Jupiter's famous Great Red Spot can be seen, along with its faint rings and its moon Europa.NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI/Judy Schmidt
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The Webb's NIRCam image of Neptune brings the planet's rings into full focus for the first time in more than three decades.
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Neptune, while exponentially bigger than Earth, appears relatively small in a wide-field view of our vast universe.NASA/Webb
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A spiral galaxy known as M74 shines at its brightest in this image, which features data from both the Webb and the Hubble. This galaxy is about 32 million light-years away.European Space Agency
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The Southern Ring Nebula, located about 2,500 light-years away. The bright star at the center plays a supporting role in sculpting the nebula that surrounds it.NASA/Webb
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Here, the Carina Nebula is shown in a composite image that combines the James Webb Space Telescope data with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory data, leading to a brighter and more enhanced final result.NASA/chandra.si.edu
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Combining the James Webb Space Telescope data of the Cartwheel Galaxy with data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory reveals rays emitted from superheated gas, exploded stars, and the remnants of those stars.NASA/chandra.si.edu
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This is a side-by-side comparison view of the Tarantula Nebula, captured by the James Webb Space Telescope's NIRCam (left) and MIRI (right). Located in the Large Magellanic Cloud Galaxy, this nebula is the largest star-forming region near our own galaxy.NasaWebbTelescope/Flickr
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When combined with data from Chandra X-ray Observatory and NASA's retired Spitzer Space Telescope, the Webb's observation of Stephan's Quintet reveals a hitherto unseen shock wave heating gas to tens of millions of degrees. This shock wave is created by one of the galaxies passing through the others at about 2 million miles per hour. NASA/chandra.si.edu
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The James Webb Space Telescope and the Hubble both contributed to this image of the galactic pair VV 191. The Webb observed the elliptical galaxy (left) and the spiral galaxy (right) in near-infrared light, and the Hubble collected additional data on the galaxies in visible and ultraviolet light.NASA/ESA/CSA/ASU/UA/UM/JWST/PEARLs Team
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This James Webb Telescope image of the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 is combined with a natural effect called gravitational lensing.NASA/Webb
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Finally, adding in data from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory to this James Webb Telescope image of SMACS 0723, we can clearly see superheated gas, which is only visible with the help of X-ray light.NASA/chandra.si.edu
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A side-by-side comparison that shows how different space observatories can work together. Here, a Hubble image (left), a Webb image (right), and an image that combines the data from both telescopes (center) all showcase the magnificent M74 galaxy.European Space Agency
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In this side-by-side view, a disk galaxy is seen perfectly edge-on in a James Webb Telescope image of the Southern Ring Nebula. This vantage point allows experts to take a closer look at the galaxy's central bulge. NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI
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In this case, the James Webb Space Telescope and the Hubble have taken simultaneous observations of the same target. With Hubble represented on the left and Webb on the right, we see observations of the asteroid Dimorphos several hours after NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) intentionally impacted the moonlet. European Space Agency
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An illustration showing what exoplanet LHS 3844 b could look like, based on current understanding of the planet and its star. The planet, which is 49 light-years away, is believed to be extremely hot on the surface, with dayside temperatures reaching about 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.Artwork: NASA/ESA/CSA/Dani Player (STScI)
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This illustration shows what exoplanet WASP-39 b could look like. Because this gas giant is so close to its star, WASP-39 b is extremely hot. It is also likely to be tidally locked, with one side facing the star all the time.Artwork: NASA/ESA/CSA/Joseph Olmsted (STScI)
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One of the most breathtaking images captured so far by the James Webb Space Telescope is the Pillars of Creation, a cosmic nursery full of young stars in the Eagle Nebula, which is about 6,500 light-years away.NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI/Joseph DePasquale (STScI)/Anton M. Koekemoer (STScI)/Alyssa Pagan (STScI)
28 Beautiful James Webb Telescope Images That Capture The Majesty Of Our Universe
Inside The Complicated Creation Of The James Webb Space Telescope
The road to building the James Webb Space Telescope was a long one for NASA. According to The New York Times, plans to create a successor to the famous Hubble Space Telescope first began in 1996. But the James Webb Space Telescope didn't even get its official name until 2002.
Things only got more complicated from there. From unexpected changes in the telescope's construction to delayed launches to the ever-rising cost of building the observatory, the James Webb Space Telescope took far longer than expected to launch. As the price steadily rose to $10 billion, it became more and more crucial that the expensive device would not fail.
And ahead of the long-awaited launch, some expressed concerns about the telescope's very name. Though the real James Webb was an important leader at NASA from 1961 to 1968 — overseeing the historic Apollo program — the administrator also allowed discrimination against gay government employees during his tenure. According to NPR, there is no current plan to change the name, but it remains controversial in some scientific circles.
JODY AMIET/AFP via Getty ImagesThe James Webb Space Telescope at The Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana on November 5, 2021.
But despite all the conflicts over the price, timeline, and name, many experts were pleased to see that the telescope's launch from French Guiana in 2021 was a resounding success. And now that the observatory is deep in the cosmos, experts are able to enjoy the many perks that it has to offer.
As reported by NASA, the James Webb Space Telescope is an infrared observatory, meaning that it can view the cosmos at infrared wavelengths. Though the telescope is far from the first device to use infrared technology, it boasts the most sensitive infrared camera that's ever been sent into deep space, the famed Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam).
This allows us to observe parts of the universe that have never been captured by other telescopes, not even the iconic Hubble. Indeed, the Webb has already sent us some of the clearest pictures of space that we've ever seen, helping us unlock the mysteries of the universe.
Why James Webb Telescope Images Are So Important To Astronomers
As reported by Newsweek, the James Webb Space Telescope is about three times bigger than the Hubble. And thanks to its massive 21-foot-wide primary mirror, the Webb also has the ability to observe cosmic objects that are nearly nine times fainter than the objects the Hubble was able to see.
While the new telescope's NIRCam has gotten a lot of attention, it also boasts three other state-of-the-art instruments: the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), the Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec), and the Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph/Fine Guidance Sensor (NIRISS/FGS).
According to the Space Telescope Science Institute, these instruments all have different modes of observing objects in space. And while some may be best suited for certain phenomena, they can all be used to capture nearly anything in the cosmos, from far-off galaxies to our very own solar system.
NASA/WebbOne of the last views of the James Webb Space Telescope after its launch into space.
But all of these impressive upgrades don't mean that scientists are forgetting about the Hubble. After all, the famous telescope is still in operation. Furthermore, experts are able to combine the powers of the Hubble and the Webb to create even more striking images of the universe.
Along with complementing and expanding upon some of the discoveries that the Hubble has already made, the James Webb Space Telescope is also meant to find the earliest galaxies that formed after the Big Bang. Additionally, it will tell us more about the births of stars and planets.
Further down the line, some experts also hope to use the telescope to find out more about the mysterious dark matter that helps sculpt other components of the universe. The telescope may be able to find an alien biosphere on another Earth-like planet — if such a biosphere exists. It even has the potential to determine the actual rate at which space is expanding.
On top of answering centuries-old questions, astronomers also hope that the James Webb Telescope images will raise new questions in the future. Clearly, we still have so much more to learn about the universe.
After looking through these James Webb Telescope images, learn about Edwin Hubble, the namesake of the Hubble Space Telescope. Then, explore 44 vintage NASA photos from the glory days of space exploration.
An All That’s Interesting writer since 2013, Erin Kelly focuses on historic places, natural wonders, environmental issues, and the world of science. Her work has also been featured in Smithsonian and she’s designed several book covers in her career as a graphic artist.