Webb cost American taxpayers $10 billion and was designed to extend the discoveries of the agency’s popular Hubble Space Telescope, which launched in 1990 and also still operates. (Webb has longer wavelength coverage and improved sensitivity, making its potential to uncover the uncharted regions of space even greater.)
Here is a look at what Webb, Hubble, Spitzer and other space projects have uncovered to date about the cosmos.
A nursery for stars
This star-forming section in the Carina Nebula referred to as NGC 3324 was captured by Webb.
The image is notable because it offers a first-time glimpse of star births in areas of the Carina Nebula.
This image features the heart of the swirly Messier 74, which is also known as the Phantom Galaxy and located in the Pisces constellation.
The image was released by the European Space Agency and is a combination of data from both Webb and Hubble.
“By combining data from telescopes operating across the electromagnetic spectrum, scientists can gain greater insight into astronomical objects than by using a single observatory even one as powerful as Webb,” the space agency said.
Jupiter like never before
In summer of 2022, the Webb project released images of Jupiter that showed off the planet’s unique characteristics.
The planet’s northern and southern lights, swirling polar haze and Great Red Spot stand out in the photos.
“We’ve never seen Jupiter like this. It’s all quite incredible,” said planetary astronomer Imke de Pater with the University of California—Berkeley in a statement.
“A tiny sliver of a vast universe”
The image covers “a patch of sky approximately the size of a grain of sand, held at arm’s length by someone on the ground,” per NASA, “and reveals thousands of galaxies in a tiny sliver of vast universe.”
A clear view of Neptune’s rings
The Webb is credited with capturing the clearest view of Neptune’s rings in 30 years.
In September, NASA released this image showing the ice giant like never before.
“It has been three decades since we last saw these faint, dusty rings, and this is the first time we’ve seen them in the infrared,” said Heidi Hammel, Neptune system expert and interdisciplinary scientist for Webb per NASA.
What asteroids really look like
Part of the first image from Webb was used in this composition which features asteroids sitting beside galaxies.
“Thousands of galaxies – including the faintest objects ever observed in the infrared – have appeared in Webb’s view for the first time,” said NASA of the image used to create this composition.
The abyss stares back
This Webb image, known as Southern Ring Nebula, includes a planetary nebula that is about 2,500 light years away, according to NASA.
NASA added that the image features a dimmer star that has been emitting both rings of dust and gas for thousands of years.
Webb findings reveal the star is cloaked in dust.
NIRCam and MIRI
This captivating photo, portraying dazzling young stars, was created through both the Webb’s near-infrared camera and mid-infrared instrument.
“Two cameras are better than one, as seen in this combined view from Webb’s NIRCam & MIRI,” NASA tweeted. “In the near-infrared, we see hundreds of stars and background galaxies. Meanwhile, the mid-infrared shows us dusty planet-forming disks (in red and pink) around young stars.”
You might recognize Stephan’s Quintet from the popular American Christmas drama “It’s a Wonderful Life,” where it was featured.
Stephan’s Quintet depicts five galaxies grouped together. The Webb telescope depicted Stephan’s Quintet in a new light.
A new exoplanet
In September, NASA released a Webb image capturing the first planet outside of the solar system, CBS News reported.
Images of the exoplanet, called HIP 65426 B, made headlines. The exoplanet is 355 light years from Earth, between 15 million to 20 million years old and uninhabitable — a gas giant with no rocky surface.
NASA recently released a new picture of the Cartwheel Galaxy that was captured by Webb.
You can witness the present state of the galaxy in the image in addition to its past and future.
A very fine sensor
The Webb project recently showed off the capabilities of its fine guidance sensor in July 2022 through this image of stars and galaxies.
While the FGS is capable of taking images, its primary purpose is to point Webb precisely at targets.
Webb on orbit of Earth
This photo features the Webb in outer space on orbit of Earth.
You can see the planet’s surface in the background.
The galaxy that watches you back
This stunning photo depicting a galaxy was taken using the Webb’s MIRI instrument.
MIRI has sensitive detectors that give it insight into the redshifted light of far away galaxies in addition to objects in the Kuiper Belt and newly forming stars.
Not just a test image
This photo, focusing on a bright star, was taken as an alignment evaluation, according to NASA.
However, it also drew attention to the galaxies and stars seen in the background.
Webb’s optics are so sensitive that the galaxies and stars can easily be spotted.
“Just think of what we’re going to learn”
The Webb telescope recently captured images of a satellite galaxy that were then compared with photos from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.
The shot from the Spitzer, on the left, reveals the high quality of Webb and its capabilities.
“It’s not until you actually see the kind of image that it delivers that you really internalize and go, ‘Wow!'” said University of Arizona’s Marcia Rieke, chief scientist for Webb’s near-infrared camera, per the Associated Press. “Just think of what we’re going to learn.”
In September 2022, an image captured by Webb featured the Tarantula Nebula star-forming region — and it made headlines.
The region was seen in a new light. According to CBS News, the Webb captured thousands of never-before-seen young stars in the Tarantula Nebula.
“Never seen before”
Mid-infrared light from the Webb captured the heart of the Tarantula Nebula in this photo.
“Webb has already begun revealing a universe never seen before, and is only getting started on rewriting the stellar creation story,” NASA said.
One galaxy, three views
In this image you can see Hubble and Webb working together.
The image of the galaxy to the left is from Hubble. The Webb version, to the far right, appears noticeably different.
The image in the center combines the two for a mesmerizing look at the spiral galaxy.
Webb in the sky
This photo shows Webb in the black night sky on the very day it launched on Dec. 25, 2021.
It was viewed at 6:30 p.m. in Hyderabad, India, from the University of Hyderabad campus in the southern sky.
Webb in outer space
This pastel-splashed photo shows the Webb in outer space on a mission.
The Webb delivered its first fascinating image of the cosmos shortly after launching in 2021.
“How it all got started”
In April, NASA released a record-breaking image.
Nicknamed “Earendel,” it offers a glimpse of the most distant single star that Hubble has discovered to date.
Its name is derived from the Old English word for “rising light” or “morning star.”
“Earendel existed so long ago that it may not have had all the same raw materials as the stars around us today,” said astronomer Brian Welch per CBS News Miami.
“Studying Earendel will be a window into an era of the universe that we are unfamiliar with, but that led to everything we do know. It’s like we’ve been reading a really interesting book, but we started with the second chapter, and now we will have a chance to see how it all got started.”
“Like bees swarming around a hive”
This image taken from Hubble features multi-colored stars clustered together.
It shows a portion of the universe filled with thousands of colorful stars.
According to NASA, it captures globular cluster NGC 1805, which is situated close to the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way.
Globular clusters are round conglomerations of stars, with the most gathered together in the center.
“The stars orbit closely to one another, like bees swarming around a hive. In the dense center of one of these clusters, stars are 100 to 1,000 times closer together than the nearest stars are to our sun, making planetary systems around them unlikely,” said NASA of the image.
A colorful look at baby stars
This image from the Hubble depicts a celestial cloudscape, according to NASA.
It features a multi-colored area in the Orion Nebula around Herbig-Haro object HH 505, the agency added. Herbig–Haro objects are strikingly bright regions surrounding newborn stars.
Largest comet anywhere
In 2022, Hubble discovered the largest comet known to date.
Citing NASA, CBS News reported the comet is bigger than the state of Rhode Island; is located in our solar system; and could possibly stretch as far as 85 miles.
In September 2022, NASA’s Hubblesite announced the discovery of young stars in spiraling formation.
The young stars were found “spiraling into the center of a massive cluster of stars,” per NASA. It’s in the Milky Way.
In July 2022, NASA showed off two new eye-catching photos from space taken by Hubble.
In the first image to the left, you can see “rarely observed,” colliding galaxies. Meanwhile, the right photo discloses an “unusual” spiral galaxy with three arms as opposed to the typical even number.
“Lord of the rings”
On July 4, 2020, Hubble captured this image of the planet Saturn and its stunning rings.
While Saturn is 839 million miles from Earth, the photo was able to capture a perfect view of its rings.
During the announcement about the image, the agency referred to Saturn as “lord of the rings.”
The colorful death of a sun-like star
This image depicts what is described by NASA as the “last hurrah” of a star similar to the sun.
In the photo taken by Hubble, you can see the burned-up star known as a white dwarf in the very center. As the star’s life comes to an end, colorful outer layers of gas are discarded.
The sun, a star in our solar system, is expected to burn out within the span of 5 billion years, according to NASA.
Neowise keeps it together
On Aug. 8, 2020 the Hubble captured this image of the comet Neowise making its journey around the sun.
The completion of the journey was considered impressive at the time, considering many other comets in its place would have broken apart.
A popular clique
One of the most popular and luminous globular clusters in the northern sky is known as globular cluster M13.
In this image captured by Hubble, you can see hundreds of thousands of stars circulating within globular cluster M13.
Two galaxies become one
Hundreds of millions of years ago, the two spiral galaxies pictured here, known as the Antennae Galaxies, started merging.
The pair, captured by Hubble, are one of the closest and youngest known colliding galaxies.
The eye of a nebula
This photo captures the Glowing Eye Nebula in the constellation Aquila, known for resembling a large eye.
The nebula pictured here reportedly consists of a cloud of material casted off thousands of years ago from the hot star seen in the middle.
Blue and pink stars
The arms of this spiral galaxy image, captured by Hubble, is what makes it eye-catching.
The spiral galaxy’s arms are comprised of young blue stars and pink star clusters that sit amid brown dust.
Plumes of turquoise gas
The Hubble project recently shared this photo, showing plumes of turquoise hydrogen gas on the edge of the Tarantula Nebula.
It was captured using near-infrared light. The same photo is also available in both visible and ultraviolet light.
What is inside this nebula?
In 1998, Hubble examined the planetary nebula known as NGC 7027.
It recently shared that in 2019, the planetary nebula was examined again, but in ultraviolet light for the first time.
“Ultraviolet observations provided a new look of the expanding shells of gas created by a dying central star,” the Hubble project tweeted.
“Raindrops” in space
This shot from Hubble offers an up-close look at the Helix Nebula.
“What look like raindrops are comet-like filaments that likely formed when hot stellar winds and radiation plowed into shells of gas and dust,” tweeted the Hubble project.
A star or a bubble?
A massive star can easily be spotted in this photo of Nebula N83B.
In the photo, the star appears as a luminous spherical bubble within the nebula.
The Hubble captured the colorful beauty of the Andromeda Galaxy, which is also known as M31.
In the photo, some of the red on the edge of the galaxy is comprised of hydrogen gas from intergalactic space. The hydrogen gas is also from galaxies that previously merged with the Andromeda Galaxy.
The Andromeda Galaxy is depicted in far-infrared and radio wavelengths of light here.
Hubble recently revealed evidence of a lone black hole in interstellar space.
The black hole is not visible to the human eye because the powerful gravity associated with them swallows light.
“Like legendary wandering ghosts, their presence can only be deduced by seeing how they affect the environment around them,” Hubble workers tweeted.
Did the universe smile down on mankind?
This popular 2015 photo taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble project appears to show galaxy cluster SDSS J1038+4849 displaying a smile.
According to NASA, the figures that appear to be eyes are actually very shiny galaxies, and the area that resembles a smile is really an arc created by strong lenses.
Several star clusters were found in Abell 1689 after Hubble closely examined the galaxy cluster located in the constellation Virgo in 2010.
The star clusters resemble white dots and the larger blotches are reportedly whole galaxies of stars.
A tinier Neptune, or a “super Earth”
Artwork from artist Adam Makarenko that was released earlier this year on the Hubble site depicts mini-Neptune TOI 560.01.
Based 103 light years away, the mini Neptune planet is seen in close proximity to its star. As the planet continues losing its puffy atmosphere it could eventually evolve into what scientists call a super-Earth.
Astronomers using the Hubble and the Keck Observatory have identified two different cases of “mini-Neptune” planets that are possibly transforming into super-Earths.
Neon green nebula
This photo from Hubble offers a glimpse of Planetary Nebula ngc 7009.
Green and yellow colored gaseous material surrounds the pink remnant core of the star in the center.
What remains of a supernova
In 2014, Hubble captured this image featuring the thin remains from a Type IA supernova.
It’s in a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way.
According to the Space Telescope Science Institute, the supernova carries a “predicable brightness” that lets astronomers measure the expansion of the cosmos. Research in the area led to the discovery of dark energy.
In June, the Hubble team joked about this image resembling a penguin protecting its egg.
The image, called colliding galaxy pair Arp 142, actually shows a close encounter between two galaxies.
“Pillars of Creation”
This alluring image, called the Pillars of Creation, was created using a combination of data from Hubble and X-ray imaging from the Chandra X-ray Observatory.
It was taken in the Eagle Nebula, and features what is known as “elephant trunks” of interstellar gas and dust. The star-filled region of the Eagle Nebula is in the Serpens constellation, up to 7,000 light years from Earth.
While gaseous debris surrounding dying stars is often in circular form, this image, captured by Hubble, appears to show a rectangle shape surrounding one.
This nebula was named the “Red Rectangle” due to its shape and color.
Hubble orbits Earth
In this photo, you can see Hubble orbiting Earth.
The sun’s bright beams shine over the telescope as it orbits the cosmos to unravel mysteries.
Giant star on the edge of destruction
Meet AG Carinae, one of the most luminous stars in the Milky Way galaxy, enclosed by dust and gas.
There is speculation that one or more giant eruptions nearly 10,000 years ago caused the massive nebula, which is 5 light years wide. This image was captured by Hubble.
Life and death of a nebula
This shot taken by the Spitzer is credited with revealing details of life and death in the Eagle Nebula.
Using infrared light, Spitzer helped capture newborn stars and unstable clouds in the Eagle Nebula.
The Eagle Nebula, a cluster of stars in the Serpens constellation, is thought to be 7,000 light years away.
In this photo, a type of dead star referred to as a pulsar is on full display.
The surrounding disk of rubble was discovered by Spitzer.
This pulsar is known as 4U 0142+61 and was a massive star before a supernova explosion 100,000 years ago.
This infrared image from Spitzer highlights the magnificent beauty of Perseus, a constellation in the northern sky.
You can see bright pink baby stars that are around three million years old and part of the 300-member IC348 star cluster. The Perseus Nebula appears as a green cloud in the middle of the photo.
In 2017, Spitzer offered a glance of the first known set of habitable zone planets around a single star.
The seven planets discovered are each the size of Earth and could have water — essential to human survival. The images inspired this speculative illustration.
“This discovery could be a significant piece in the puzzle of finding habitable environments, places that are conducive to life,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington per NASA.
“Answering the question ‘are we alone’ is a top science priority and finding so many planets like these for the first time in the habitable zone is a remarkable step forward toward that goal.”
Spitzer in space
In this photo, you can see Spitzer in space against the infrared sky as it is positioned toward the Rho Ophiuchi.
It’s a multiple star system in the constellation Ophiuchus.
One big ring
Spitzer discovered the largest ring ever known around Saturn in 2009, according to the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
At the time, JPL reported it would take nearly one billion Earths to fill the ring.
“If you could see the ring, it would span the width of two full moons’ worth of sky, one on either side of Saturn,” astronomer Anne Verbiscer said at the time, via JPL.
Galaxy in the “young universe”
In 2005, the Hubble and Spitzer teamed up and discovered one of the most distant galaxies known to mankind called HUDF-JD2.
This photo depicts the combined visible and infrared view of galaxy HUDF-JD2 from both telescopes.
At the time of the discovery, the JPL noted HUDF-JD2 appeared “unusually massive and mature for its place in the young universe.”
Montage of images from Spitzer
This montage depicts a series of extraordinary images taken by Spitzer.
The collection shared by the JPL features celestial wonders, nebulas and galaxies. They were all taken within the Spitzer’s first year and a half in space.
This colorfully fun image highlights the beauty of a nebula in the constellation Sagittarius.
The nebula here is referred to as the Godzilla nebula for good reason.
According to JPL, if you look closely enough, a figure resembling the popular movie monster Godzilla appears.
In this photo, Spitzer’s infrared cameras reveal the stars of the crowded galactic center region of the Milky Way galaxy.
The image shows older, cool stars in bluish tones. Meanwhile, reddish bright dust clouds are aligned with young, hot stars in stellar nurseries.
The Milky Way’s galactic center is about 26,000 light years away.