A popular internet meme fomenting a rivalry between images of the James Webb and Hubble space telescopes (via Twitter)

With awe and wonderment, we witnessed the release of the first images by the James Webb Space Telescope last week, the deepest and sharpest yet of our ever-unfolding universe. Capturing galaxies billions of light-years away, they left many of us mind-blown and humbled.

But those stunning images can also puzzle us and test the limits of human cognition. For example, how can we possibly grasp NASA’s assessment that many millions of galaxies existed in an area of sky that would be the “size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length” to a person standing on Earth? What should we do with this knowledge? And how can we implement it in our daily lives? Has it stopped any of the meaningless wars waged around the globe? No, it hasn’t. Has it made us more conscious of the urgency to protect our precious little planet? Maybe it did for some, but not for all. Has it even stopped your endless bickering with your partner (can’t you see you love each other?) I doubt it.

That’s where I think Internet memes come into the picture: They help us mentally and psychologically process these revelations about our place in the universe using humanity’s best survival tool — humor. And as expected, the release of the Webb Telescope’s first images prompted an outpouring of memes. Here’s how the Twittersphere responded to worlds far beyond Earth’s stratosphere.  

Many of the memes made fun of the lo-def images of the 1990 Hubble Space Telescope, the OG of deep space telescopes. How ungrateful of them.

And of course, we have some art historical references, including Salvador Dalí and Vincent Van Gogh:

We are the universe, and the universe is us, as demonstrated in this meme:

This might be my favorite one:

Another one in the same vein, though less successful:

I don’t know the character hiding in this nebula, but it sure is freaky:

What the Webb telescope images taught us about human behavior:

Yes! Somebody finally said it:

Our Publisher Veken Gueyikian, a proud nerd, informed me that this next one is based on a classic scene from the 1978 Superman movie depicting the banishment of General Zod to the “phantom zone.”

Some other memes reacted to the global conversation surrounding the Webb telescope images, which NASA knew very well how to hype:

This, I believe, is a joke about infrared technology, which is what the James Webb telescope used, versus X-ray:

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Hakim Bishara

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...