Topline

The long-awaited first images from the James Webb Telescope captivated the American public this week, with a shot of a distant galaxy cluster making for the top posts on Facebook and Twitter, in a break from the divisive political messaging that tends to dominate the platforms .

Key Facts

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NASA published the top two US-based Facebook posts this week, led by Monday’s release of what the space agency called “the deepest and sharpest infrared image of the distant universe so far,” showing thousands of galaxies.

That post garnered more than 940,000 interactions, through over 680,000 reactions, around 242,000 shares and about 19,000 comments, according to data compiled by social media tracking firm NewsWhip.

NASA followed up Tuesday with a post featuring a series of additional shots, led by an image of “Cosmic Cliffs” showing stars being formed in a gargantuan dust cloud, which attracted more than 750,000 interactions.

The galaxy cluster shot also topped Twitter this week, albeit in the form of a joke: @psa10memes shared a side-by-side image juxtaposing the vivid shot of galaxies distant lightyears away with purportedly grainy security camera footage, drawing more than 1.1 million likes and over 126,000 retweets.

Key Background

President Joe Biden unveiled the galaxy cluster photo at a White House event Monday, touting the image as a signal to "the American people—especially our children—that there's nothing beyond our capacity." The image shows the SMACS 0723 cluster as it appeared 4.6 billion years ago, as that is how long it took for the light captured in the picture to reach the Webb Telescope. The initial images are the culmination of around two decades of work to develop the $10 billion telescope, which is a successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, launched in 1990. The Webb Telescope has enough fuel onboard to keep shooting photos for 20 years, according to NASA.

Big Number

13.1 billion years. That's the age of the oldest light captured in the galaxy cluster image, according to NASA, from a galaxy that appears as a tiny red dot. Astronomers believe the universe was less than 1 billion years old at the time the light was emitted.

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