1st James Webb Space Telescope images thrill astronauts, celebs and more

This mosaic, a composite of near and mid-infrared data, is Webb’s largest image to date, covering an area of the sky 1/5 of the Moon’s diameter (as seen from Earth).
The first images from the James Webb Space Telescope are here and the world is in awe. (Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI)

Revealed one by one in a somewhat glitchy webcast, the first science-grade views of the cosmos captured by the James Webb Space Telescope are finally known to the world, stunning professional astronomers, space enthusiasts as well as members of the general public who otherwise don't care about space at all. 

Already, the preview image released on Monday (July 11) by U.S. President Joe Biden, prompted some unexpected science aficionados to express their awe on Twitter.

"NASA says in this photo, the Webb telescope has photographed just a speck the size of a grain of sand," American actress and activist Mia Farrow wrote in a tweet. "In this image — we see galaxies and galaxies — the light from galaxies has traveled billions of years to us!"

Gallery: James Webb Space Telescope's 1st photos

Astronauts, in particular, hailed the new images.

"Some days we take baby steps in exploration, some days we take leaps," NASA astronaut Anne McClain wrote on Twitter. "This is a leap. A vivid, beautiful, fantastic leap."

Former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly echoed the sentiment. "Big win for science!" he wrote in a tweet.

British guitarist Brian May, member of the legendary band Queen who is also an astrophysicist, celebrated the image release with a new song recorded with fellow musician Graham Gouldman. The song, called Floating in Heaven, was released on Spotify shortly after Biden revealed the first image on Monday evening. 

"STOP THE PRESS!" May wrote on his Instagram account. "Thank you Mr POTUS!!! First images from the James Webb Space Telescope!"

British astronaut Tim Peake went for an uncontroversial response to the newly released images, stressing the international nature of the project.

"It's hard to overstate what impact #JWST is going to have on science, astronomy & our understanding of the universe," Peake tweeted. "Incredible images. Huge congratulations to the international team that has made this possible."

While primarily known as a NASA mission, the $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope is a collaboration involving the countries of the European Space Agency, Canada and other partners across the world.

Internet personality Hank Green also shared several of the new images. In addition, he offered a helpful tip for distinguishing images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope from those taken by Webb.

"From this moment on you will always be able to tell the difference between a Hubble image and a JWST image: Hubble stars have four spikes in a cross. JWST stars have six in a snowflake," he wrote in a tweet.

In its official tweet celebrating the long-awaited release, NASA also emphasized the importance of international collaboration in science and astronomy.

"Better together. International collaboration gave us the most powerful space telescope ever made, and the deepest infrared views of the universe ever seen," the space agency said. "With our partners at @ESA and @CSA_ASC, the science can begin."

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Tereza Pultarova
Senior Writer

Tereza is a London-based science and technology journalist, aspiring fiction writer and amateur gymnast. Originally from Prague, the Czech Republic, she spent the first seven years of her career working as a reporter, script-writer and presenter for various TV programmes of the Czech Public Service Television. She later took a career break to pursue further education and added a Master's in Science from the International Space University, France, to her Bachelor's in Journalism and Master's in Cultural Anthropology from Prague's Charles University. She worked as a reporter at the Engineering and Technology magazine, freelanced for a range of publications including Live Science, Space.com, Professional Engineering, Via Satellite and Space News and served as a maternity cover science editor at the European Space Agency.