One day, perhaps, it will rank among the iconic images of a new space age: a sharp and sublime technicolor mélange, staring back at the human species from 13 billion years in its past. Some two decades and $10 billion in the making, the James Webb Space Telescope has sent back its first snapshots from orbit. It didn’t disappoint.
Its initial image, unveiled at a White House ceremony Monday, focused on a galaxy cluster named SMACS 0723. The cluster’s gravitational field acts as a kind of magnifying glass, helping to illuminate yet more distant galaxies that might otherwise be too dim to see. The result was a canvas of shimmering stars and nascent galaxies and unnerving cosmic depths that included the oldest light ever captured.