Sunday, August 7, 2022

Why stunning Webb Telescope images are becoming a new normal

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As an astronomer at the Niels Bohr Institute’s Cosmic Dawn Center in Copenhagen, Gabriel Brammer usually studies very distant galaxies that are so faint that they are only visible as red dots even to the most powerful telescopes.

But when he saw a new raw image from the James Webb Space Telescope of a nearby galaxy on Monday, he couldn’t resist color-editing the image himself share on twitter.

“I did it in 10 minutes while drinking coffee,” said Dr. brammer LatestPageNews in an interview: “So it’s not the most thorough scientific picture, but it’s scientifically relevant.”

Earlier visible-light images of the galaxy known as NGC 628, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope for example, show the galaxy’s spiral arms dotted with myriad stars somewhat obscured by filaments of cooler dust and gas. But dr Brammer’s processing of the new Webb image reverses this relationship, hiding the stars and highlighting the dust that glows in the mid-infrared instrument.

The data was actually collected by another team of scientists working on high-angular resolution physics in nearby galaxies, or the Phangs survey, which uses multiple telescopes to study the physics of star formation and galactic evolution. This team has also shared images of other nearby galaxies taken by Webb by posting them on Twitter.

“Although that’s not exactly my own research,” said Dr. Brammer, “Through these kinds of images, we’re really able to understand the details of what’s going on in physics [in galaxies].”

But the picture that Dr. Brammer shared, highlights more than Webb’s exceptional mid-infrared resolution and sensitivity compared to previous instruments like Hubble and the now-defunct Spitzer Space Telescope. It is an example of how Webb is already changing the way professionals and the public interact with scientific images of the deep cosmos.

Webb, a joint project by NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency, was first conceived in 1996, just six years after the launch of the Hubble mission. As a scientific tool, Webb benefited from decades of advances in telescope and spacecraft technology between the late 1990s and its December 25, 2021 launch.

But Webb’s ongoing scientific mission also benefits from terrestrial technology – for example, in the late 1990s there was no social media through which different views of Hubble images could be quickly shared.

Although Nasa, ESA and CSA collaborated on July 12 for a live screening of the first five full-color Webb photos, the public need not wait for further official releases of Webb images. according to dr Brammer is now taking pictures of the telescope almost constantly and transmitting them to the Barbara Mikulski Space Telescope Archive, or MAST — Webb processed the image he shared on July 17 and posted it on Twitter the next morning.

“Most of the programs that James Webb is going to do over the next year are these programs called General Observers,” said Dr. brammer “Basically, anyone in the world can suggest an experiment or an observation that Webb should make, and then the astronomical community will meet once a year and review all of those suggestions and make the decision.”

But most importantly, he notes, “the data itself is available to everyone in the world, not just professionals,” said Dr. brammer “You can download a jpeg version of these images directly from the archive.”

Anyone with a copy of Photoshop and enough skills to combine three images of a Webb target into a red, green, and blue channel in that image processing software can edit their own full-color Webb images, he added. And of course scientists will use the data for research purposes and sometimes share the resulting processed images with the world via social media and other forums.

“Part of the scientific power of these missions is that these images can be useful for many things beyond what the original team that designed the observations might have thought of,” said Dr. Brammer, “because anyone, any astronomer or anyone else can download them for any purpose they want and do their own analysis.”

And that will lead to a new pace of discovery and revelation when it comes to the results of the Webb observations compared to what has happened with Hubble and other instruments in the past. A revolutionary, powerful new telescope that rains down high-resolution images of the Universe that anyone can process, share, and analyze the moment they want to take a look.

“To a certain extent, everyone [Webb telescope] The picture will look like this, and I think that’s one of the reasons I’m so excited,” said Dr. brammer “But also from a scientific point of view, they really offer a new way of seeing the universe down to the most distant galaxies.”

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