15 remarkable JWST images that reveal the wonders of our vast universe

The telescope has transported us to Jupiter's ghostly rings, the 'Cosmic Cliffs,' and a starry hourglass. Where to next?
JWST composite image of barred spiral galaxy NGC 5068, showing its core and part of a spiral arm. Clumps and filaments of dust, represented in a mossy green color, form an almost skeletal structure that follow the twist of the galaxy and its spiral arm.
NGC 5068, released June 2023: The brightness in the upper left is the central bar of galaxy NGC 5068—a dense slash of stars and gas through its midsection, seen around 17 million light-years away in the Virgo constellation. ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, J. Lee and the PHANGS-JWST Team

Few scientific tools get introduced in a press conference by the commander-in-chief. But NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is no ordinary instrument. President Biden unveiled the first image from JWST in July 2022, revealing the sharpest, deepest infrared view of the universe ever taken. And that was only the beginning. 

The solar-powered device, which drifts at a stable point 930,000 miles away from Earth, has since captured giant galaxies from the cosmic dawn; helped researchers discover the most distant and active supermassive black hole; snapped glowing views of Saturn and Jupiter; and found a new world beyond our solar system. It has teased out the details of the atmospheres above exoplanets and made the first-ever in-space detection of a molecule called methyl cation, a building block for the more complex carbon compounds found on Earth. 

The telescope was built on several aerospace innovations. Its mirrors are plated in a microscopic film of gold, optimized to reflect light. Its imagers, which include the Near-Infrared Camera and Mid-Infrared Instrument, allow JWST to look beyond cosmic dust and sense weak and ancient light from up to 13 billion years ago, just 800,000 years after the universe was born. And thanks to far more recent technology, it’s also incredibly easy to set up alerts for when the JWST has captured a new image, so you never miss out.

These remarkable James Webb Space Telescope images show stars, galaxies, and space in all their sparkling glory. What are your favorites?

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has captured a lush, highly detailed landscape – the iconic Pillars of Creation – where new stars are forming within dense clouds of gas and dust.
Pillars of Creation, released October 2022: This image, a composite from two JWST cameras, shows orange infant stars emerging from a massive cloud of dust and gas: the famous Pillars of Creation, which are 6,500 light-years away in the Eagle Nebula. NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI
Purple dust and clouds surround a central star as it prepares to go nova.
Supernova prelude, released March 2023: This picture was taken moments, astronomically speaking, before a disaster. A dying Wolf-Rayet star, at the center of the image, is preparing to explode. It is 30 times bigger than our sun, NASA notes, and has already shed about 10 sun’s worth of mass, creating the shroud of gas around it. NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team
JWST's image of the Cartwheel galaxy, with several other galaxies in the frame.
Cartwheel galaxy, released August 2022: Located 500 million light-years away in the Sculptor constellation, the Cartwheel galaxy’s unique structure resulted from a collision between two star clusters. NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI

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Galaxies distorted by the phenomenon known as gravitational lensing.
Warped galaxies, released March 2023: The warped, fisheye-like effect in this image is the result of what’s called gravitational lensing. A massive object in the foreground—a cluster of galaxies—is distorting the space-time around it. As light travels through that warp toward JWST, it bends, causing the appearance of streaks and arcs. ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, J. Rigby
A galaxy in the shape of a spiral with arms like cobwebs.
Spiral galaxy IC 5332, released September 2022: JWST’s Mid-infrared Instrument can sense the gas patterns, arranged here like the strands of a cobweb, within a galactic structure. Galaxy IC 5332 is 66,000 light-years in diameter—a bit bigger than our Milky Way—and sits about 29 million light-years from Earth. ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, J. Lee and the PHANGS-JWST and PHANGS-HST Teams
The gas giant Jupiter gives off shining infrared light.
Jupiter, released August 2022: JWST’s Near-Infrared Camera captured our solar system’s glowing gas giant, whose rings shine a million times fainter than the planet itself. NASA, ESA, CSA, Jupiter ERS Team; image processing by Judy Schmidt.
JWST's first public image, showing stars and distant galaxies.
SMACS 0723, released July 2022: In the first publicly released image taken by JWST, the galaxy cluster known as SMACS 0723 is a swarm of stars and spirals. Thanks to the lensing effects of gravity, JWST was able to detect super-distant galaxies—some shown here are from the universe’s first billion years. NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI
Swirling clouds of gas and debris in the Orion Nebula.
Orion Nebula, released June 2023: Life as we know would be impossible without the element carbon. Within a protoplanetary disk in the Orion Nebula, 1,350 light-years away, JWST sensed the emission lines—a specific pattern of light—for methyl cation. This was the first detection of the carbon-based compound in space. ESA/Webb, NASA, CSA, M. Zamani (ESA/Webb), and the PDRs4All ERS Team
Cliff-like structures are carved into the gas clouds of this nebula.
Carina Nebula, July 2022: The telescope pierced the dust clouds of a star nursery to reveal freshly made suns in one of the first JWST images. The young stars emit ultraviolet radiation, and have carved what NASA named “Cosmic Cliffs” into the nebula. NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI
The ringed planet Saturn in infrared.
Saturn, released June 2023: In near-infrared light, the rings of gas giant Saturn are neon bright. The planet itself is darker because its atmosphere contains methane gas, which absorbs sunlight at this wavelength. NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, M. Tiscareno (SETI Institute), M. Hedman (University of Idaho), M. El Moutamid (Cornell University), M. Showalter (SETI Institute), L. Fletcher (University of Leicester), H. Hammel (AURA); image processing by J. DePasquale (STScI)
A star is forming out of a hot mass of gas, in a shape like a sand clock.
Hourglass protostar, released November 2022: This protostar is a hot mass of gas that’s drawn into a central core. Once that core is sufficiently dense and scorching, it will trigger nuclear fusion, becoming a sun. NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI
A misshapen spiral galaxy.
NGC 3256, released July 2023: This unevenly shaped galaxy, about the same size as the Milky Way, shows the scars of a collision. Dust and stars streak from its center; some material has been yanked toward the galaxy’s edge, roughly 120 million light-years from us. In the image’s bright spots, new stars form, their births caused by the clash. ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, L. Armus, A. Evans
Herbig-Haro 211, released September 2023: Herbig-Haro objects form when stellar winds or jets of gas spew from newborn stars. Collisions with nearby gas and dust cause high-speed shock waves, seen to the lower left and upper right. NASA, ESA, CSA
A blue and pink swirl of soot in a star-forming region of the Small Magellanic Cloud.
Small Magellanic Cloud, released October 2023: The blue represents silicates and sooty chemicals known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs. These molecules are swirling in a star-forming region of the Milky Way’s dwarf satellite galaxy, the Small Magellanic Cloud. NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, N. Habel

This post has been updated. It was originally published in July 2023.