On 11 July, in a live broadcast from the White House, U.S. President Joe Biden unveiled the first image from what he called a “miraculous” new space telescope. Along with millions of people around the world, he marveled at a crush of thousands of galaxies, some seen as they were 13 billion years ago. “It’s hard to even fathom,” Biden said.

Not many telescopes get introduced by the president, but JWST, the gold-plated wunderkind of astronomy built by NASA with the help of the European and Canadian space agencies, deserves that honor. It is the most complex science mission ever put into space and at $10 billion the most expensive. And it did not come easy. Its construction on Earth took 20 years and faced multiple setbacks. New perils came during the telescope’s monthlong, 1.5-million-kilometer journey into space, as its giant sunshield unfurled and its golden mirror blossomed. Engineers ticked off a total of 344 critical steps—any one of which could have doomed the mission had they gone wrong.

The first data and images beamed back to Earth by JWST suggest it was all worthwhile. They are “beautiful” and “mind-blowing,” according to astronomers who have spoken with Science. It was like putting on infrared glasses, one said, and seeing the universe anew.

But those images only hint at what is to come. With the largest mirror ever flown in space and a suite of instruments sensitive to infrared light, JWST will peer further into the past than any predecessor, including the much smaller Hubble Space Telescope. It can reveal exquisite detail in closer objects and parse the atmospheres of alien worlds. Although papers started to pop up on preprint servers such as arXiv within days of data being released, firm results are still scarce. But few doubt the telescope will revolutionize our picture of the cosmos, and so we name JWST Science’s 2022 Breakthrough of the Year.

For more information visit: https://www.science.org/content/article/breakthrough-2022#section_breakthrough