How the James Webb Space Telescope transformed astronomy this year : NPR



James Webb Space Telescope launched on December 25, 2021. Its first images – like this one of the Carina Nebula – stunned researchers.

NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI


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NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI


James Webb Space Telescope launched on December 25, 2021. Its first images – like this one of the Carina Nebula – stunned researchers.

NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI

One year ago, the James Webb Space Telescope began its journey through space.

“JWST was launched on Christmas day, and then was a present that took six months to unwrap,” said Jane Rigby, an astronomer at NASA and the Operations Project Scientist.


The Pillars of Creation were first photographed by Hubble in 1995. Webb’s image reveals countless newly formed stars glistening amongst the columns of gas and dust.

NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI


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NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI


The Pillars of Creation were first photographed by Hubble in 1995. Webb’s image reveals countless newly formed stars glistening amongst the columns of gas and dust.

NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI

After an initial calibration period, the telescope started collecting data. And the first results amazed astronomers.

“I downloaded the data, and I’m like, sitting in my pajamas…you know, it’s pandemic, we’re all working from home,” Rigby said. “I pulled down those data, and just started paging through them, pouring through them. And it was so beautiful.”

The telescope is only five months into its science mission, and it’s already transforming astronomy. The telescope’s instruments have allowed it to capture previously unobservable planets, stars and galaxies near and far.

NPR spoke with three astronomers in different disciplines of astronomy about how JWST is advancing research in their area of expertise. They all agree JWST is a game changer, and that there’s plenty more groundbreaking research still to come.

“The ring systems just pop right out, and they’re gorgeous”


JWST’s images of Neptune are some of the clearest of the planet’s rings taken in decades. The bright bluish object is Neptune’s large frozen moon, Triton.



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