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