“If you held a grain of sand on the tip of your finger at arm’s length, that is the part of the universe that you’re seeing,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson via NBC News. “Just one little speck of the universe.”
NASA said the image shows the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 as it had appeared 4.6 billion years prior and magnified with distant objects behind it distorted as part of gravitational lensing.
The University of California Santa Cruz shared the image on its website in a zoomable format, which allows viewers to take an even closer look at the individual galaxies depicted.
The Webb Space Telescope, which provides a much sharper image than its revolutionary predecessor, the Hubble Telescope, is able to pull otherwise faint and distant objects into sharp focus with its infrared eyes, providing viewers with a previously unseen glimpse of galaxies and star clusters.
NASA said the oldest light depicted in the image is believed to date back to about 13 billion years, during the early days of the universe.
“These images are going to remind the world that America can do big things, and to remind the American people, especially our children, that there’s nothing beyond our capacity,” President Joe Biden said shortly before the image was revealed alongside NASA officials.
Thomas Zurbuchen, an associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, promised that the telescope would represent a turning point in how humans understand space during a news briefing last month.
“It’s not an image. It’s a new worldview,” Zurbuchen said in June via NBC News.
The Webb Space Telescope was launched into space on Christmas Day and successfully deployed in January.