The James Webb Space Telescope is revealing the universe like you’ve never seen or heard before

The James Webb Space Telescope is revealing the universe like you’ve never seen or heard before

The James Webb Space Telescope is revealing the universe like you’ve never seen or heard before

The James Webb Space Telescope is revealing the universe like you’ve never seen or heard before

The James Webb Space Telescope reveals a universe of sights and sounds

It’s a universe like we’ve never experienced before. The James Webb Space Telescope is sending back incredible images of deep space that advanced scientists believe will “change astronomy forever.”

Not only can we see into space and time billions of years ago. The magic is that we can see anything.

While its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, offered some amazing sights, Webb, which was developed in partnership with NASA and the Canadian and European space agencies, can look even further back in time and show us more details about what lies beyond planet Earth. .

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Take the recent release of the Pillars of Creation first imaged by Hubble in 1995. In the original image from the area, which is thought to be part of a star-forming galaxy, columns of gas clouds that look like long fingers reach into the sky.

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

This is because the Web sees infrared light, which is normally invisible to humans.

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


By accepting infrared light, the Web can see objects that are so far away, the light they emit takes more than 13.5 billion years to reach Earth. This means that the Web is also like a time machine because it can see what the universe looked like before the Earth and Sun formed.

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Cosmic cliffs, dancing galaxies: James Webb Telescope’s first photos dazzle

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

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

Joe DePasquale, senior science visual imaging developer, creates images from 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 physical science to represent color,” Pagan told Global The New Reality.

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The James Webb Telescope is sending back more stunning photos of a distant galaxy

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

Science Visualization Developer Alyssa Pagan translates infrared images from Webb into colors we can see.

Joey Ruffini/Global News

The end result is stunning images like the mountainous-looking cosmic cliffs of the Carina Nebula captured by the Web.

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

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

Image of the Carina Nebula taken by the James Webb Space Telescope.


On their own, these images are spectacular, but a Canadian scientist is now adding another level of emotion to it all.

Matt Russo, a University of Toronto physicist and specialist in sonification, is working with musician and friend Andrew Santaguido to add sound to space.

“The whole process was really natural because we’re combining things we’re passionate about: music, astronomy, math, computer programming, science, communication — all of these things wrapped into one package,” Russo says.

Matt Russo, a University of Toronto physicist and sonification specialist, creates sounds for Webb’s images.

Their first attempt at sonifying an image was of the Trappist-1 solar system, which was first imaged 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 so it became really natural to translate their movements into musical rhythms and pitches,” says Russo.

They were doing Trappist sonification for pure enjoyment – then NASA noticed.

“We kind of on our own, (started) sonifying different things that (NASA) put out and we’d send it to them and they’d start putting it out themselves. And then that eventually led to us working for them professionally.”

Andrew Santaguida, musician, working with Russo to sonify Webb’s images.

Brent Rose/Global News

Some of the sonifications met with public skepticism, like when they made the sound for a black hole.

“There is a real sound wave detected in space in a cluster of galaxies. And we were able to see the waves in the image, which means we can extract them and resynthesize the sound,” says Russo.

“Some media outlets would say that it’s actually a recorded sound of a black hole, as if you had a microphone in space, which we know wouldn’t work for several reasons. That’s why it’s important when we do sonification to present it exactly as it is: to converge data into sound.”

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

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

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

“Where we have a little more musical input, we have to decide, for example, which musical instrument will activate the stars,” he adds. “People seem to have an intuition that the stars make some kind of bell or jingle.”

Their sonifications of Webb’s images now allow people to see – and hear – space.

Sonifications provide those living with visual impairments the opportunity to experience new insights into what exists.

“The whole goal is to bring those interesting features to the picture, through the sound,” says Russo.

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

“I never imagined experiencing astronomy in such a way,” she tells The New Reality.

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

“When I first experienced sonification, I felt it in a way that was not intellectual; it was sensual and visceral. That’s why I sometimes wonder if this is what people see when they look at the night sky,” says Malec.

She now works regularly with Russ, Santaguida and NASA to help translate Webb’s images to the best of their abilities for the benefit of people living with vision impairment.

Malec is excited about the future of space exploration and hopes for the future of accessible science content.

“I wonder if I was a kid now and came across things like sonification and image description 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 cause is really good for blind and partially sighted kids today to grow up with this as normal, I think it’s incredibly valuable.”

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