The James Webb Space Telescope has captured a stunning new image of the closest star-forming region to Earth, located 390 light-years away.

The release of the image marks the first anniversary since the space observatory began observing the universe.

Webbs detailed closeup showcases the chaos of the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex, where crisscrossing jets from young sunlike stars hit interstellar gas and cause it to glow.

SomeĀ of the stars are wreathed in shadows that hint at circumstellar disks, the swirling rings of gas and dust where planets are born.

The cloud complex contains 50 stars similar in mass to our sun, which means these future planetary systems may resemble what our own solar system looked like in the very beginning.

The darkest parts of the image are where stars that are still forming are cocooned in dust, while the jets of molecular hydrogen make bold splashes in red.

Webbs image of Rho Ophiuchi allows us to witness a very brief period in the stellar lifecycle with new clarity. Our own Sun experienced a phase like this, long ago, and now we have the technology to see the beginning of anothers stars story, said Klaus Pontoppidan, Webb project scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland and research scientist at NASA, in a statement.

The most powerful telescope ever sent to space, Webb launched on December 25, 2021, and NASA shared its first set of scintillating images on July 12, 2022.

The space observatorys first glimpses of the universe included distant galaxies, the atmospheric composition of an exoplanet and a stellar nursery, where stars are born.

In just one year, the James Webb Space Telescope has transformed humanitys view of the cosmos, peering into dust clouds and seeing light from faraway corners of the universe for the very first time. Every new image is a new discovery, empowering scientists around the globe to ask and answer questions they once could never dream of, said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in a statement.

Webb is an investment in American innovation but also a scientific feat made possible with NASAs international partners that share a can-do spirit to push the boundaries of what is known to be possible. Thousands of engineers, scientists, and leaders poured their lifes passion into this mission, and their efforts will continue to improve our understanding of the origins of the universe and our place in it.

Unveiling the secrets of the universe

Webb captures the universe in infrared light, which is invisible to the human eye. The telescope cuts through obscuring gas and dust across the cosmos to reveal previously unseen features and showcase other celestial details with advanced precision.

While the initial images provided a sample of Webbs capabilities, the telescopes first year of cosmic observations has been nothing short of awe-inspiring, and the discoveries it has enabled have both encouraged and surprised astronomers.

On its first anniversary, the James Webb Space Telescope has already delivered upon its promise to unfold the universe, gifting humanity with a breathtaking treasure trove of images and science that will last for decades, said Nicola Fox, associate administrator of NASAs Science Mission Directorate, in a statement.

An engineering marvel built by the worlds leading scientists and engineers, Webb has given us a more intricate understanding of galaxies, stars, and the atmospheres of planets outside of our solar system than ever before, laying the groundwork for NASA to lead the world in a new era of scientific discovery and the search for habitable worlds.

One of Webbs greatest strengths is capturing the faint light of incredibly distant galaxies. The observatory can essentially peer back in time as it studies cosmic objects that formed shortly after the beginning of the universe.

Given the vastness of the universe, studying its earliest days is like looking back in time. Faint light from the oldest galaxies is still traveling across the universe to reach Earth, so the farthest reaches of the universe visible to scientists is light from the past.

In its first year alone, the telescope has already identified some of the most distant galaxies ever observed, which formed just a few hundred million years after the big bang.

Studying these galaxies, which have been beyond the observational reach of other telescopes, can help astronomers piece together more details about the early days of the universe including how the first galaxies and stars came to be.

The telescope has observed a broad range of galaxies and other celestial objects, creating a catalog of cosmic phenomena that could change the way scientists understand the universe.

Webb has witnessed an unusual star on the brink of exploding, identified elements in icy space clouds, captured hidden structures inside spiral galaxies, spied weather patterns on a distant planet and spotted water on a rare comet. The telescope has also flexed its keen eye for chemistry and demonstrated its ability to identify organic molecules across the universe.

The breadth of science Webb is capable of exploring really becomes clear now, when we have a full years worth of data from targets across the sky, said Eric Smith, associate director for research in the Astrophysics Division at NASA Headquarters and Webb program scientist, in a statement.

Webbs first year of science has not only taught us new things about our universe, but it has revealed the capabilities of the telescope to be greater than our expectations, meaning future discoveries will be even more amazing.

In addition to unveiling previously hidden aspects of the universe and distant galaxies, astronomers also used Webb to observe more well-known features in new ways.

The telescope captured both starry and ghostly images of the Pillars of Creation as well as spying never-before-seen details in the Cassiopeia A supernova. Both have served as the targets of other telescopes like the Hubble Space Telescope in the past.

Webb has also conducted observations a little closer to home, capturing views of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune in an eye-opening new light. The telescope also glimpsed a plume rising off of Saturns moon Enceladus and clouds on the ringed planets moon Titan.

While Webb has the ability to peer inside the atmospheres of exoplanets, the observatory also discovered its first exoplanet.

And its just the beginning. The telescopes team at NASA estimates that Webb will be able to spend the next two decades revealing the invisible side of the universe and leading the way to discoveries both anticipated and unknown.

With a year of science under our belts, we know exactly how powerful this telescope is, and have delivered a year of spectacular data and discoveries, said Webb Senior Project Scientist Jane Rigby of NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, in a statement. Weve selected an ambitious set of observations for year two that builds on everything weve learned so far. Webbs science mission is just getting started theres so much more to come.