The white circles and ellipses are from the galaxy cluster in the foreground called SMACS 0723, as it appeared more than 4.6 billion years ago – roughly when the Sun formed too.
The reddish arcs are from light from ancient galaxies that has traveled more than 13 billion years, bending around the foreground cluster, which acts as a gravitational lens.
NASA astrophysicist Amber Straughn said she was struck by “the astounding detail that you can see in some of these galaxies”.
“They just pop out! There is so much more detail, it’s like seeing in high-def.”
NASA astrophysicist Jane Rigby added that the image can teach us more about mysterious dark matter, which is thought to comprise 85 per cent of matter in the universe – and is the main cause of the cosmic magnifying effect.
The composite image, which required a 12.5 hour exposure time, is considered a practice run. Given longer exposure time, Webb should break all-time distance records by gazing back to the first few hundred million years after the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago.