In its first 100 days, the James Webb telescope peered deep into space, took beauty shots of faraway galaxies and glittering nebula, and saw a spacecraft slam into an asteroid

galaxies stars in infrared jwst

The James Webb Space Telescope’s first deep field infrared image, released on July 11, 2022.NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

Since it began observing in July, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has changed how we see the universe.

Often described as the successor to Hubble, Webb launched on December 25, 2021, after more than two decades of development.

Since that time, the $10 billion telescope has traveled more than 1 million miles from Earth and is now stationed in a gravitationally stable orbit, collecting infrared light. By gathering infrared light, which is invisible to the human eye, Webb is able to cut through cosmic dust and see far into the past, to the first 400 million years after the Big Bang.

In its first 100 days of observation, Webb has captured mind-blowing images, reaching astonishing cosmic distances. Of the hundreds of observations it’s already made, see six of the most striking photos taken by the infrared heavyweight, below.

Series of 17 concentric dust rings was spawned by Wolf-Rayet 140 binary system thousands of light years away, captured by Webb.

Webb captured a series of 17 concentric dust rings spawned by the Wolf-Rayet 140 binary system.NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, NASA-JPL, Caltech

A Webb image released October 12 shows rings of dust plumes created by the violent interactions between two stars more than 5,000 light years from Earth. They’re known collectively as the Wolf-Rayet 140 binary or WR 140. The star system includes a Wolf-Rayet star — stars that live incredibly violent and relatively short lives.

Every eight years, when the stars pass close to each other, they release dust plumes that stretch thousands of times the distance between Earth and the sun.

“I was puzzled by what I saw in the preview images,” Ryan Lau, principal investigator of the Webb Early Release Science program that observed the star, said in a statement.

“There seemed to be a strange-looking diffraction pattern, and I worried that it was a visual effect created by the stars’ extreme brightness. However, as soon as I downloaded the final data I realized that I was not looking at a diffraction pattern , but instead rings of dust surrounding WR 140 — at least 17 of them,” Lau said.

galaxies stars in infrared jwst

The James Webb Space Telescope’s first deep field infrared image, released on July 11, 2022.NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

The first full-color image NASA unveiled from Webb, on July 11, was a “deep field” image — a long-exposure observation of a region of the sky, which allows the telescope to capture the light of extremely faint, distant objects.

In it, Webb pointed its powerful infrared camera to SMACS 0723, a massive group of galaxy clusters that act as a magnifying glass for the objects behind them. The streaks of light are galaxies stretched out by the powerful gravitational pull of SMACS 0723, a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing. This created the telescope’s first deep field view of incredibly old, distant, and faint galaxies.

The farthest galaxies in the photo are more than 13 billion years old and are made of oxygen, hydrogen, and neon. The image took less than a day to capture, according to NASA.

“The deep field image fills me with wonder and hope,” Lisa Kaltenegger, professor of astronomy at Cornell University and director of the Carl Sagan Institute, previously told Insider.

While the image covers an area of ​​the sky that you can blot out by holding a grain of sand at arm’s length, it contains thousands of galaxies, according to Kaltenegger, along with the possibility of billions of Earth-like planets.

In this image by Webb's Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam), a smattering of hundreds of background galaxies, varying in size and shape, appear alongside the Neptune system.

In this image by Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam), a smattering of hundreds of background galaxies, varying in size and shape, appear alongside the Neptune system.NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

On September 21, Webb captured the clearest views of Neptune and its hard-to-see rings since the Voyager 2 spacecraft flew by the planet in 1989, on its way out of the solar system.

Webb’s new images show Neptune’s bright, methane-ice clouds reflecting sunlight, as well as a smattering of galaxies against an inky black expanse.

The fresh snapshot, below on the right, shows faint dusty rings around the planet that even Voyager 2’s 1989 flyby couldn’t capture. Below, on the left, is a composite of two images of Neptune’s rings taken by Voyager 2. Astronomers covered the planet’s body so the probe could gather more light from the icy giant’s faint rings.

On the left, a picture of Neptune's rings taken by Voyager 2 in 1989. On the right, a picture of Neptune's rings taken in infrared by Webb.

On the left, a picture of Neptune’s rings taken by Voyager 2 in 1989. On the right, a picture of Neptune’s rings taken in infrared by Webb.NASA/JPL/ESA/STScI

“Wow, I am in awe of those rings!” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, wrote about Webb’s Neptune images on Twitter when the images were released.

This image from NASA's James Webb Space Telescope's Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) instrument shows Dimorphos, the asteroid moonlet in the double-asteroid system of Didymos, about 4 hours after NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) made impact.

The James Webb Space Telescope shows Dimorphos, the asteroid moonlet in the double-asteroid system of Didymos, about four hours after NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test made impact.NASA, ESA, CSA, Cristina Thomas (Northern Arizona University), Ian Wong (NASA-GSFC) IMAGE PROCESSING: Joseph DePasquale (STScI)

Webb captured NASA purposefully crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid on September 26, in a first-of-its-kind test to learn how to defend the planet against rogue space rocks. The image above shows a tail of debris formed after the collision spewed large chunks of rock and dust into space.

NASA’s 1,376-pound probe traveled about 6.8 million miles before crashing into Dimorphos, a small asteroid orbiting the asteroid Didymos, as part of the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission.

The mission successfully changed the trajectory of the asteroid Dimorphos in a test of NASA’s ability to deflect dangerous asteroids off a collision course with Earth — should the need arise.

Wide-field view of Jupiter, captured by Webb.  The fuzzy spots in the lower background are likely galaxies.

Wide-field view of Jupiter, captured by Webb.NASA, ESA, Jupiter ERS Team; image processing by Ricardo Hueso (UPV/EHU) and Judy Schmidt

On July 27, Webb captured images of Jupiter that showcase the planet’s turbulent atmosphere, with the gas giant’s Great Red Spot — an enormous storm that has been swirling for centuries — along with other storm systems.

The telescope also spotted Jupiter’s thin rings made of dust particles from debris, visible auroras at Jupiter’s northern and southern poles, and two of the planet’s moons, Amalthea and Adrastea. The fuzzy spots in the background are galaxies, according to NASA.

“We didn’t really expect it to be this good, to be honest,” Imke de Pater, a planetary scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, who led the scientific observations of the planet, said in a statement. “It’s really remarkable that we can see details on Jupiter together with its rings, tiny satellites, and even galaxies in one image.”

carina nebula star-forming region orange brown clouds of gas and dust with stars against bright blue background

The star-forming region NGC 3324 in the Carina Nebula, captured in infrared by Webb.NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI

Webb’s image of the Carina Nebula, an assemblage of gas and young stars 7,600 light-years away and four times as large as the Orion Nebula, was among the first batch of images delivered by the telescope.

Called the Cosmic Cliffs, the Carina Nebula is a vast star-forming region. It’s home to young, extremely massive stars, including Eta Carinae — a volatile system containing two massive stars that closely orbit each other. The tallest of the “mountains” of gas and dust visible in this image are 7 light-years high, according to NASA.

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