James Webb wowed us with images of the oldest galaxies ever observed

At number 1 on IE's 22 best innovations of 2022, we look at the iconic space observatory that is changing science for good.
Chris Young
JWST's first image that wowed the world.
JWST's first image that wowed the world.

Ibrahim Can/Interesting Engineering  

It's only a few months into what is likely to be a more than 10-year mission, and NASA's $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope has already provided the world with an overwhelming amount of imagery that is stunning in both its beauty and the mind-bending wealth of information it provides.

James Webb launched on December 25, 2021, from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana, but it wasn't until it started operating in an official scientific capacity from Lagrange Point 2 on July 11 that we discovered the true extent of its power with an incredible image of countless galaxies.

That image showed the world a patch of the sky known as SMACS 0723. According to NASA, it was the "deepest, sharpest infrared view of the universe to date," and it included galaxies that are more than 13 billion years old.

This is number 1 in Interesting Engineering's series, showcasing the best innovations of 2022. Check back to discover more about groundbreaking AI, unique solar panels, new 3D printing methods, and much more.

James Webb is revolutionizing the world of astronomy

James Webb wowed us with images of the oldest galaxies ever observed
The first image from the James Webb Space Telescope.

Even before it reached its deep space destination, James Webb had long been touted as a state-of-the-art observatory that would usher us into a new era of astronomy. Despite those exceedingly high expectations, it has not disappointed.

Only about a week after the space observatory started scientific observations, it showed us an image of the most distant, and therefore oldest, galaxy ever observed, called GLASS-z13. It is a staggering 13.5 billion years old, meaning it formed only 300 million years after the Big Bang. A relatively tiny amount of time in the context of the cosmos.

And it has since peered even further into the past. What's more, some of the galaxies it has observed are more evolved than would be expected of such early galaxies, providing much food for thought for astrophysicists and astronomers. Over the next decade or so, it will continue to provide unprecedented insight into the universe's past. Take a look at just a few of its best images so far below.

Some of Webb's best early images

Only a day after James Webb's first scientific image, SMACS 0723, was revealed to the world, NASA held a press conference revealing a number of other new observations.

James Webb wowed us with images of the oldest galaxies ever observed
The Carina nebula.

One of those was an image of the stunning Carina Nebula (above), a stellar nursery located some 7,600 light-years away from Earth. The image is a perfect showcase for Webb's ability to peer through dust clouds and uncover the infant stars beneath.

James Webb wowed us with images of the oldest galaxies ever observed
The spiral galaxy IC5332.

Webb was able to capture an impressive image of the spiral galaxy IC5332 (above) due in part to the fact that it is almost face-on in relation to Earth. It is estimated to have a diameter of roughly 66,000 light-years and is about two-thirds the size of the Milky Way.

James Webb wowed us with images of the oldest galaxies ever observed
The protostar within the dark clouds L1527.

With images like the one above, of a star cocooned within a dark cloud named L1527, it's hard not to get excited about what's next for the incredible space observatory. It's only just started its mission, and there's so much more to come, which is why we simply couldn't overlook James Webb in our list of the best innovations of 2022.