James Webb Space Telescope reveals the universe as you’ve never seen or heard it before

James Webb Space Telescope reveals the universe as you’ve never seen or heard it before

James Webb Space Telescope reveals the universe as you’ve never seen or heard it before


Click to play video: 'James Webb Space Telescope reveals a universe of sights and sounds'

James Webb Space Telescope reveals a universe of sights and sounds


It is the universe as we have never experienced it before. The James Webb Space Telescope is sending back incredible images of deep space so advanced scientists believe it will “change astronomy forever”.

It’s not just that we can see into space and time billions of years ago. The magic is that we can’t see anything at all.

While its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, offered some incredible sights, Webb, which was developed in collaboration with NASA and the Canadian and European space agencies, is able to look even further back in time and show us more detail about what lies beyond planet Earth. .

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Take the recent release of the Pillars of Creation first captured in 1995 by Hubble. In the original image of the region, which is considered part of the star-making galaxy, pillars of gaseous clouds that look like long fingers reach toward the sky.

What we couldn’t see before, and what is now being revealed by the Webb telescope, are all the stars hidden behind the gas.

That’s because Webb sees infrared light, which is normally invisible to humans.

Pillars of Creation. Taken by the Hubble telescope (L) and the James Webb telescope (R).

Courtesy/NASA

By capturing infrared light, Webb can see objects so far away that the light they emit takes more than 13.5 billion years to reach Earth. That means Webb is also like a time machine, as it can see what the universe looked like when the Earth and Sun formed.

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Cosmic cliffs, dancing galaxies: the first images from James Webb Telescope dazzle

However, what Webb sends back is invisible to humans because we can’t see infrared light.

So it’s up to Joe DePasquale and Alyssa Pagan, developers of scientific visuals at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, to translate Webb’s information into something visible.

Joe DePasquale, senior science imagery developer, takes images of the James Webb Space Telescope.

“We can’t see in infrared. So there has to be some level of translation here. But we use physical meaning like real science to represent the color,” Pagan told Global’s The New Reality.

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The James Webb Telescope is sending back even more amazing images of a distant galaxy

With the help of NASA scientists, Pagan and DePasquale split the images into wavelengths. “We apply color according to those wavelengths. And so we use the shortest wavelength filters we have, blue for that. And as we move to longer and longer wavelengths, we move to green and then to red,” says DePasquale.

Science visuals developer Alyssa Pagan translates Webb’s infrared images into colors we can see.

Joey Ruffini/Global News

The end result is dazzling images, such as the mountainous-looking cosmic cliffs of the Carina Nebula, captured by Webb.

“What we see when we look at these images is the raw material for life,” says DePasquale.

‘We understand the universe. We understand ourselves. It’s so intriguing to get this new perspective, this bigger picture. A lot of people can say, “Oh, it makes me feel small,” but I think that makes a lot of people feel really united, connected, part of something so big and so beautiful. So you’re part of something that’s great.”

An image of the Carina Nebula taken by the James Webb Space Telescope.

NASA

These images are showstoppers in themselves, but a Canadian scientist now adds an extra level of emotion.

Matt Russo, a University of Toronto physicist and sonication specialist, has teamed up with musician and friend Andrew Santaguida to add sound to the universe.

“The whole process felt very natural because we’re combining things that we’re passionate about: music, astronomy, math, computer programming, science, communications — all these things wrapped up in one bundle,” says Russo.

Matt Russo, a University of Toronto physicist and sonication specialist, creates sounds for the Webb images.

Their first attempt at sonifying an image was with the Trappist-1 solar system, first captured by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope in 2017.

“[It] is an amazing solar system with seven Earth-sized planets. But they also happened to be locked into a musical pattern called orbital resonance. And that made it very natural to translate their movements into musical rhythms and pitches,” says Russo.

They did the sonification of Trappist for pure fun – then NASA noticed.

“We actually just started sonifying different things that (NASA) released and we sent them to them and they just started posting it themselves. And in the end, that led to us working for them professionally.”

Andrew Santaguida, musician, teams up with Russo to sonify Webb footage.

Brent Rose/Global News

Some sonifications were met with skepticism from the public, such as when they did the sound for a black hole.

“A real sound wave has been detected in space in a galaxy cluster. And we were able to see the waves in the image, which means we can extract them and re-synthesize a sound,” says Russo.

“Some outlets would say it’s a real recorded noise from a black hole, like having a microphone in space, which we know wouldn’t work for a variety of reasons. So it’s important when we do sonication to present it exactly as it is: that it’s data put together into sound.”

Now Russo and Santaguida are working on the latest images from the James Webb telescope.

They take the spectacular images DePasquale and Pagan created and run them through a software system Russo designed.

According to Russo, the sound of the data can sometimes be a pleasant surprise. Other times they have to get a little more creative to figure out how best to represent something in the image. Russo says they always try to be as scientifically accurate as possible.

“When we have a little more musical input, for example, we have to decide which musical instrument is star-activated,” he adds. “People seem to have an intuition that stars would make some kind of chime or bell sound.”

Their sonifications of the Webb images now enable people to see – and hear – the universe.

The sonifications offer people with visual impairments the chance to experience new insights into what’s out there.

“The whole goal is to convey those interesting features in the image through sound,” says Russo.

Christine Malec, a Toronto visually impaired community member and arts and culture consultant, says Russo and Santaguida’s sonifications allow her to conceptualize the telescope’s images, even though she can’t see them.

“I never thought I would experience astronomy in that way,” she tells The New Reality.

Christine Malec is a member of the visually impaired community helping NASA make Webb images more accessible.

“When I first experienced the sonication, I felt it in a way that wasn’t intellectual; it was sensory and visceral. So I sometimes wonder if this is what sighted people experience when they look at the night sky,” says Malec.

She now regularly collaborates with Russo, Santaguida, and NASA to best translate Webb’s images for the benefit of people with visual impairments.

Malec is excited about the future of space exploration and hopeful for the future of accessible content in the science field.

“I wonder if as a kid now I came across things like sonification and image descriptions and astronomical stuff, would a career in STEM make more sense? Would it be more attractive? And I think the answer to that is yes. So I think that’s a really good reason for blind and low vision kids to grow up normally with this, I think it’s incredibly valuable.





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