On Monday, U.S. President Joe Biden unveiled the first image taken by the world's most powerful telescope.
The James Webb Space Telescope, a $10 billion US joint venture of NASA, the Canadian Space Agency and the European Space Agency, has photographed five images which chart humanity's journey through cosmic history — from gas planets to massive nebulas.
The first image shows the farthest humanity has ever seen in both time and distance, with the four remaining images to be released on Tuesday by NASA.
The "deep field" image released at a White House event is filled with lots of stars, with massive galaxies in the foreground and faint and extremely distant galaxies peeking through here and there. Part of the image is light from not too long after the Big Bang, which took place 13.8 billion years ago.
The captured scene shows a miniscule patch of sky that is approximately the size of a grain of sand, held at arm's length by someone on the ground, according to NASA's website.
Seconds before he unveiled it, Biden marvelled at the image he said showed "the oldest documented light in the history of the universe from over 13 billion — let me say that again — 13 billion years ago. It's hard to fathom."
The busy image with hundreds of specks, streaks, spirals and swirls of white, yellow, orange and red is only "one little speck of the universe," NASA administrator Bill Nelson said.
The telescope, which was launched last December, is positioned 1.6 million kilometres from Earth and is considered the successor to the aging Hubble Space Telescope.
While Hubble has been able to see distant galaxies, it doesn't have the resolution of Webb, which is optimized to see in the longer wavelengths of infrared, giving it much greater clarity and sensitivity. The images it produces will be far sharper, revealing much more detail.