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The Editors

Bold and Risky, the Webb Mission Is Already a Success

Getting the world’s most expensive and complex telescope into orbit wasn’t easy. The benefits could be profound.

Far out.

Far out.

Image: NASA

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.