The Webb Space Telescope Will Rewrite Cosmic History. If It Works.
December 4, 2021 4:27 AM   Subscribe

"Now we’re going to put our zillion-dollar telescope on top of a stack of explosive material and turn things over to fate." Current scheduled launch date December 22 To look back in time at the cosmos’s infancy and witness the first stars flicker on, you must first grind a mirror as big as a house. Its surface must be so smooth that, if the mirror were the scale of a continent, it would feature no hill or valley greater than ankle height. Only a mirror so huge and smooth can collect and focus the faint light coming from the farthest galaxies in the sky — light that left its source long ago and therefore shows the galaxies as they appeared in the ancient past, when the universe was young.

The reason no one has seen the epoch of galaxy formation is that the ancient starlight, after traveling to us through the expanding fabric of space for so many billions of years, has become stretched. Ultraviolet and visible light spewed by the farthest stars in the sky stretched to around 20-times-longer wavelengths during the journey here, becoming infrared radiation. But infrared light is the kind of atom-jiggling light we refer to as heat.

The Earth, moon and sun will all heat the telescope too much for it to perceive the dim twinkle of the most distant structures in the cosmos. Unless, that is, the telescope heads for a particular spot four times farther away from Earth than the moon called Lagrange point 2. There, the moon, Earth and sun all lie in the same direction, letting the telescope block out all three bodies at once by erecting a tennis court-size sunshield. Shaded in this way, the telescope can finally enter a deep chill and at long last detect the feeble heat of the cosmic dawn.

Currently, the telescope is folded up and ready to be placed atop an Ariane 5 rocket. The rocket is scheduled for liftoff from Kourou, French Guiana, on December 22, more than 30 years after its payload, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), was first envisioned and sketched. The telescope is 14 years behind schedule and 20 times over budget. “We’ve worked as hard as we could to catch all of our mistakes and test and rehearse,” said John Mather, the Nobel Prize-winning astrophysicist who has been chief scientist of the NASA-led project for 25 years. Now, he said, “we’re going to put our zillion-dollar telescope on top of a stack of explosive material” and turn things over to fate.

~~~~~

OP here: A long read but a great one. IMO;YMMV This telescope will do everything that Hubble can do / has done but can do so, so much more. Getting away from the heat interference will make all the difference, take signals that now mean nothing and turn them into data, able to be seen. Huge Hubble telescope fan here; I can't wait to begin to see images from this telescope.
posted by dancestoblue (63 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
 
Archive link.
posted by dancestoblue at 4:28 AM on December 4, 2021


We've been waiting for years for this telescope. There's a video in the article showing the unfolding of JWST's heat shield and mirror. I just hope all those steps work.
posted by Emmy Noether at 5:18 AM on December 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


Please be kind to any astronomers in your lives over the next few weeks. Many of them are DEEPLY ANXIOUS right now.

> "This telescope will do everything that Hubble can do / has done"

This is not entirely true. They're geared towards different wavelengths -- while there's definitely some overlap, Hubble can see into the ultraviolet and optical, and JWST can see deeper into the infrared than Hubble can. In fact, Hubble is the *only* telescope capable of ultraviolet viewing; it can't be done from earth, and it's the one space telescope that does it right now. When Hubble eventually goes, that's gone.

> "... but can do so, so much more"

This part, however, is entirely true. Putting a mirror this big in space is a huge, huge deal.
posted by kyrademon at 5:20 AM on December 4, 2021 [23 favorites]


So excited for this! I’ve been on the edge of my seat for 10 years, let’s go!
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:21 AM on December 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


Is this the one they accidentally dropped a few days ago?
posted by clawsoon at 5:46 AM on December 4, 2021 [3 favorites]


Every article I've read on the Webb ominously features the risk of failure in its headline.
posted by fairmettle at 5:48 AM on December 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


Well, I sure hope this works! I remember similar articles and news stories about the Hubble, way back in Prehistoric Times.
posted by SoberHighland at 5:52 AM on December 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


I’ve been excitedly following the telescope’s process on the NASA Webb Telescope Twitter page and have been desperately hoping that the launch goes well.
posted by Kattullus at 5:58 AM on December 4, 2021


I remember similar articles and news stories about the Hubble, way back in Prehistoric Times.

What I most remember is a satirical news program saying, "Controversy today over the shuttle mission to Hubble when Lenscrafters said they could've fixed the lens in about an hour..."
posted by clawsoon at 6:00 AM on December 4, 2021 [4 favorites]


Pretty hilarious about the piracy worry. That'd be a great action thriller novel. Billion dollar telescope held for ransom by pirates who at the last minute, and with special ops forces everywhere, sink the thing anyway. Book 2 is a techno thriller, is trying to raise the telescope (which is in a hermetically sealed container of course) and a cat 5 hurricane spins up; the last page has the telescope container on the deck of the sea barge under a calm sky BUT congress has cancelled funding for the project and it'll be scrapped. Book 3 is a political thriller trying to figure out where to get the money to get the telescope inspected and scheduled for re-launch, and there's lots of shady shit connecting the congressional committee to some billionaires to (surprise) the pirates from book 1, and it ends they've finally got skeleton funding from a big public donation drive to get the telescope inspected, when someone BUYS the telescope from under them (the warehouse manager shows them the paperwork and shrugs). Book 4, it turns out agents of the Chinese government bought it and want to get much of the team back together and launch the thing and suddenly there's a whole lot of very scary war stuff heating up with the US doing everything they can to to keep the thing from being transfered and launched (national security whatever whatever) and at the end they DO launch it and everyone's really excited and it gets set up just find and they do some initial scans but then it BLOWS UP Book 5 they try to figure out what happened and piece everything together and it turns out the preliminary data from the telescope tests have revealed the existence of an alien civilisation that's taken control of the US government! (you knew it would be aliens) The ghost of Roddy Piper makes a special cameo, of course. Anyway then there's another 5 book series about THAT.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:22 AM on December 4, 2021 [35 favorites]


I just want the launch and deployment to go flawlessly, so the designers and engineers can all give a big, silent, collective middle finger to all the naysayers, financial pearl-clutchers, and humbugs who have dogged this project since day one.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:25 AM on December 4, 2021 [33 favorites]


I’m a scientist working on the relatively small team that built and has tested and maintained the primary camera on JWST: NIRCam. I’ve had to help with testing through a blizzard outside Baltimore, Maryland, an actual hurricane down in Houston, Texas, and a global pandemic, well, everywhere. The teams who did all this work for instruments are awarded a number of hours of Guaranteed Time with the telescope, and the NIRCam PI, my boss, Dr Marcia Rieke, has gone and split her awarded time to a number of projects, including JADES, a deep extragalactic survey that will probe the farthest galaxies. It’s going to be one the biggest and deepest data sets in the first few years of JWST, especially since it’s a joint imaging survey and we are working the the European NIRSpec team to include hundreds of hours of spectroscopy to understand the chemical and ionization properties of the interesting galaxies as far away, and therefore as far back in time as we can.

The fact that it’s apparently going to launch THIS MONTH is still washing over me since it’s always felt like it will launch in some uncertain future. I am terrified but filled with trust in the huge numbers of astronomers and engineers and flight operations folks that have put so much time and love into this. Great science requires great risks. So, keep an eye out for how the launch goes later this month and for how the whole damn thing unfolds, alone, a million miles away, far beyond the moon. And keep an eye out as we turn it all on, but by bit (I’ll be at mission operations in January when NIRCam is powered on!), and then get excited for the weird universe we can see, and the questions we’ll finally have answers to, and most importantly the questions we never knew to ask.
posted by RubixsQube at 7:17 AM on December 4, 2021 [114 favorites]


I have mixed feelings about the amazing and beautiful images they release from the Hubble and soon JWST. Are they images or reconstructed data with artificial coloration? Important and fascinating information that expands our deep understanding of what makes us, us. But how much is really what is visually what we'd see if we had a rocket to take us, oh say, to the crab nebula? Shouldn't most images come with a link to what the details of the imaging actually mean?

Well anyway super exciting launch, t minus 18 days, all my fingers and toes crossed.
posted by sammyo at 7:34 AM on December 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


Sammyo, why would you want to be limited to only seeing things your human eyes can see? One of the big things about the JWST is its ability to collect infrared photons. Don't you want to see those too?
posted by Nelson at 7:39 AM on December 4, 2021 [9 favorites]


Sammyo, all astronomy images from research observatories (well, I guess I can never say all, but most) are taken through a filter. And so any resulting image that’s been made for the public is combined from multiple filters, and will probably not resemble what would be seen with the naked eye, even with optical filters. Our eyes are just not sensitive enough to see the deep universe. So the HST images that are so famous are not what we’d see, if we floated in front of it. Our eyes are pretty amazing, but also they’re not at all designed for astronomical observations. JWST, by looking outside the wavelengths of light humans can see, will have the issue where to make public images we’ll have to assign NIRCam (or MIRI!) filters to different colors of optical light. And that’s fine! If you’re doing due diligence, as many science websites do, you mention which colors are which filters, and you may even write why those filters were chosen. They might highlight oxygen or hydrogen gas swirling around, or they might let us see very distant galaxies where their light has been redshifted outside of what we can see with our eyes.
posted by RubixsQube at 7:42 AM on December 4, 2021 [30 favorites]


If you want another long read on the project The Economist had a good article last week (archive link). It doesn't have as much science as this Quanta article but has more info on the development, politics, and funding. This project has been really difficult to get done. One interesting conclusion from this
The latest National Academies’ decadal survey, released on November 4th, thus recommends that in future targets should be set that would lead to a project’s automatic cancellation if not met. It emphasises, too, the importance of small- and medium-scale missions, which have been overshadowed by the likes of the delayed space telescope.
I'm super excited about the JWST and cannot wait to see the first beautiful images that come off the thing. Or to read about all the science it enables in the coming decades. But it's a shame this project has been so difficult to build and get launched. These kind of Singular Grand Projects seem almost retro at this point. I want us to keep investing enormously in space observation but maybe a different way will work better? OTOH there's something to be said for one really freakin' big mirror.
posted by Nelson at 7:42 AM on December 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


I've been reading some amateur astrophotography stuff recently, and one thing they talk about is how to remove the infrared filter from your DSLR in order to capture more of the hydrogen-alpha emissions that give some nebula their red glow.

I'm not sure if those guys are excited or jealous about James Webb. Or both...
posted by clawsoon at 7:50 AM on December 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


In 1995, John Mather, a reedy, gentlemanly astrophysicist at the Goddard Space Flight Center. . . Mather calls himself a “theoretical instrument builder.”
I don't know this writer at all, but they absolutely nailed Mather. (Who seems to be a really thoughtful person as well as a world class scientist.)

Whatever we call this telescope, it's going to be fantastic. I'd probably have voted against it, just based on the dollars/datum ratio. (A cold far-IR spectrometer would give you 1/2 as much science for 1/20 the cost. Note that I'm very biased.) But, compared to everything else we spend money on, it's a very good choice. The results will be fantastic. And seeing agencies spend big money on slightly risky things is well worth celebrating. Cheers!
posted by eotvos at 7:55 AM on December 4, 2021 [4 favorites]


With Hubble, even when the colors are relatively "natural," it's nothing like what you'd see in real life if you got close enough to actually see the objects depicted with the naked eye. Most of the really stunning images are of clouds of gas and dust that are very diffuse, so it would look more like generic fog if you could see anything at all.

Most Hubble images are a combination of different wavelengths your eyes can't see anyway, so you'd see nothing. JWST will only be this latter class, since it's an infrared observatory.
posted by wierdo at 7:56 AM on December 4, 2021 [4 favorites]


or they might let us see very distant galaxies where their light has been redshifted outside of what we can see with our eyes.

That's what I was introduced to as the point of James Webb. If we want to see "what things really look like" we'll have to blueshift all the data anyway to get it back to its original frequencies, won't we?
posted by clawsoon at 7:58 AM on December 4, 2021 [2 favorites]


As an astronomer who reads a lot of iffy science journalism, it is so great to read such a well-written article about JWST. It captures the technical challenges and the real anxiety that a lot of us (directly involved in the project or not) feel about the upcoming launch. But it also captures the amazing science and excitement that we all feel about the advances in our current understanding of the universe and the new science it will enable.
posted by Betelgeuse at 8:40 AM on December 4, 2021 [12 favorites]


I am not an astronomer, but I do live within a mile of the Space Telescope Science Institute.

Before covid, some of their scientists were running an Astronomy on Tap event at a local Belgian beer bar, which was a highlight of my month. Go have a couple beers and listen to people geek out about the stars, yes please.

Anyway, I am hoping for their sakes, and for everyone who likes to even occasionally geek out about the stars, that this goes smoothly.
posted by the primroses were over at 8:44 AM on December 4, 2021 [5 favorites]


Are they images or reconstructed data with artificial coloration?

Unless you're seeing it directly with your eyes or with your eyes looking through purely optical devices, it's reconstructed data in one way or another.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 8:53 AM on December 4, 2021 [4 favorites]


Oh, and it looks like the next in the streaming public lecture series from the STScI is, unsurprisingly, going to be on the launch of the JWST on Tuesday 12/7.
posted by the primroses were over at 9:02 AM on December 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


After a quick read of the post’s title I imagined a zillion people pointing their webcams at the sky, then I clicked on the link.
posted by njohnson23 at 9:26 AM on December 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


clawsoon, so, while astronomers will often take images of objects in space, it's a funny thing that many times, they do not care about what the objects look like in the image, but rather how much light that object gives off, overall, through the filter they're using. For distant galaxies, many of the ones that JWST will see will be so far away that we can't "resolve" them, so we won't be able to tell anything about their shapes since they'll just look like little smudges in the images, their size entirely dictated by the way that light spreads out and gets blurry bouncing through a telescope.

For our deep surveys of distant objects, we're going to get a series of pictures in each of the filters we've chosen, and for each galaxy, we'll go and measure how much light it gives off in that filter, and from that information, providing we can be clever with determining the distances to the galaxies (which we can!), we can then say "aha, this is light from the galaxy that is ultraviolet when it left the galaxy, but now we see it as infrared light," and similar for light that left the galaxy as optical light. And from that information, we wouldn't want to make a "picture of the galaxy as it would appear if it were at rest," since that would be a blue-ish smudge instead of a red-ish smudge, but instead we can take the collected light through each filter and estimate how many stars are in that galaxy, and how many stars are being formed each year, and the way it's lighting up the gas in the galaxy, and what the general complexity of that gas is, and how much dust is in the galaxy.

For more nearby galaxies, where we can resolve them, we will be looking at the images and saying "well, while this is an infrared filter, it roughly corresponds to this optical filter," and so we can do a better job of saying "what would this look like if it were not so far away and redshifted so much."
posted by RubixsQube at 9:28 AM on December 4, 2021 [14 favorites]


Unless you're seeing it directly with your eyes or with your eyes looking through purely optical devices, it's reconstructed data in one way or another.

There is a specific technique for colorizing deep space images called the Hubble Palette, which produces most of the images that are most commonly associated with deep space telescopes. They're not assigned randomly, and there is purpose behind the colorization, but it is not what a human would see from the window of a ship passing through a nebula*. This can actually be done with just about any image editing software. Chill quick vox explainer here, slightly longer, arguably better PBS explainer here. And because NASA is basically the best government agency ever, they've published how they do a lot of this, and there are whole communities of amateur astronomers publishing their own photos produced the same way, to really good effect, and there are even some contests out there for folks doing such photography.

I have mixed feelings about this, but just about every photo you've seen of outer space, aside from ones taken by individuals on the ISS, and images of Mars after 2012, are colorized before release.

Regardless, they're beautiful representations of this total universe we're a part of, and at least for that, they're valuable.

*Light visible to the human eye is effected by time dilation and the doppler effect, and theoretically can squish other light bands into the visible spectrum. Things would actually get way more fucking wackyjacks than your basic hubble palette photos if you were jamming through space with a window.
posted by furnace.heart at 9:38 AM on December 4, 2021 [13 favorites]


> After a quick read of the post’s title I imagined a zillion people pointing their webcams at the sky, then I clicked on the link.

Optical interferometry?
posted by genpfault at 9:43 AM on December 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


how the whole damn thing unfolds, alone, a million miles away, far beyond the moon. […] for the weird universe we can see, and the questions we’ll finally have answers to, and most importantly the questions we never knew to ask.
Wow.
posted by clew at 10:36 AM on December 4, 2021 [3 favorites]


The thing will be so far away and all we’ll have to “see” of its glorious unfurling will be computer simulations and artists renderings. Such a pity. But… I was wondering if perhaps Hubble could take an optical image of it as a kind of tribute. Would that even work? Because that would be awesome.
posted by sjswitzer at 11:10 AM on December 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


From xkcd, the Webb advent calendar. Hover to get the text comment, too.
posted by jjj606 at 11:14 AM on December 4, 2021 [5 favorites]


But also, surely there are some onboard cameras trained on the shields, booms, etc. to help monitor and troubleshoot the craft? I’m asking, basically, “can it take selfies?”
posted by sjswitzer at 11:15 AM on December 4, 2021


sjswitzer, there are no cameras on JWST that can help it take pictures of itself. When you build something like this, you want to minimize anything that doesn't have a major scientific value. JWST will "see" itself through it's various sensors, and send that telemetry back to us. Much of what we're worried about with JWST will only need to happen once, during deployment in the first month, and we've already designed it to give us exactly the information we need for this deployment through the telemetry. Anything you add means the thing is heavier, which means it's harder to launch.
posted by RubixsQube at 11:23 AM on December 4, 2021 [9 favorites]


Also, I should point out, sjswitzer, that from the Earth, all we'd be able to see is the sunshield, since it's going to be pointing that towards us through the entirety of its lifetime. The Earth and the Sun are hot, and JWST needs to be very cold to operate. So, it wouldn't be a great idea to point HST, a very sensitive telescope, at a bright hexagon of fabric that's directly pointed at the Sun.
posted by RubixsQube at 11:25 AM on December 4, 2021 [6 favorites]


But also, surely there are some onboard cameras trained on the shields, booms, etc. to help monitor and troubleshoot the craft?

There are plenty of sensors on the spacecraft (electromechanical sensors for moving parts, gyroscopic sensors for orientation, etc), so there will be plenty of data to properly monitor and troubleshoot most issues. But there are no cameras other than the ones in the instruments.
posted by tclark at 11:28 AM on December 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


furnace.heart: Chill quick vox explainer here, slightly longer, arguably better PBS explainer here.

FWIW, I found the Vox explainer better for this particular subject. I found the real-colour image at 3:55 interesting; looks like what we'd see is mostly red on red on red on red with some yellow-green highlights here and there.
posted by clawsoon at 11:29 AM on December 4, 2021 [2 favorites]


looks like what we'd see is mostly red on red on red on red with some yellow-green highlights here and there.

Shh. Don't tell Bono. He's insufferable about Red™®†©*‡ already.
posted by ensign_ricky at 11:43 AM on December 4, 2021


Consider my breath bated.
posted by y2karl at 12:23 PM on December 4, 2021


I forget who I heard it from first (possibly Mather, even), but there's scuttlebutt that the Tubman (The James Webb Space Telescope Needs to Be Renamed) is actually using technology NG has experience with through their military contracts. Maybe it's not true -- but I nevertheless choose to believe, and thus I'm not worried about the unfurling process.
posted by miguelcervantes at 12:29 PM on December 4, 2021 [3 favorites]


*please work please work please work*
posted by Space Kitty at 12:41 PM on December 4, 2021 [5 favorites]


so I'm thinking this has a range of 13.223 billion Iight years.
posted by clavdivs at 12:47 PM on December 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


Are there bits of space dust of various sizes that would tear through the heat shield? It sounds quite fragile. Very interesting engineering problems on hand, to get a wide object out of the gravity well.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 12:53 PM on December 4, 2021 [2 favorites]




As excited as I am about the science, I am still pretty pissed that NASA named the telescope after a lavender scare fomenting asshole, and won't rename it after a perfunctory, at best, investigation.
posted by ursus_comiter at 2:02 PM on December 4, 2021 [5 favorites]


My last name is Hubbell (spelled differently I know) but I'm kinda pissed that something is outpacing the Hubble.

But seriously, this rules.
posted by brundlefly at 2:21 PM on December 4, 2021


Nowhere near the level that Webb appears to have been -- IE he wasn't vile -- but Hubble was rather a buffoon, an inveterate liar, claimed he did many things which he did not. For a man of his huge contribution to physics and astronomy, his spectacular intellect, not to mention his remarkable athletic ability, he needn't have lied about anything, but it appears that he was absolutely human.

Another fun Hubble fact: no one knows where he is buried. Or if he is buried. Or was he cremated, or ?? His wife was strangely silent on this matter. So if you wish to pay your respects to this multi-faceted man, you'll have to look to the skies.
posted by dancestoblue at 2:37 PM on December 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


RubixsQube, thanks for taking the time to reply and for participating in this thread. Really excited to see what new science comes out of this instrument!
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 2:41 PM on December 4, 2021 [9 favorites]


Thank you for this, and for all the people contributing to the thread. I feel so overwhelmingly humbled by this sort of thing, so I'll step back and continue learning in complete awe.
posted by ezust at 5:17 PM on December 4, 2021


Some prefer to call it only JWST in a Just Another NASA Acronym (JANA) way. Although if you watch the deployment animation / test, "web" does come to mind. Also "wat? how?"
posted by joeyh at 6:06 PM on December 4, 2021


Once everything is up and running, what will the JWST look at first?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:08 PM on December 4, 2021


If we want to see "what things really look like" we'll have to blueshift all the data anyway to get it back to its original frequencies, won't we?

There are lots of interesting things that aren't so far away as to have such a significant blue shift that JWST will observe. Observing in infrared can let us see through many gas and dust clouds, for example.
posted by wierdo at 6:40 PM on December 4, 2021 [2 favorites]


The thing I always wonder about for the unique, artisanal, boutique, hand-crafted, one of a kind, truly "big ticket" missions is - how much would making a second or third article cost? I always sort of assume a lot of the cost is fundamentally the development of the technologies and methodologies that might only be used to fabricate the one spacecraft before getting shut down, so could we have made a second JWST-class telescope for a fraction of the eventual price of the flying article? Or is it the validation process that turns into the budget buster - you've got to validate the craft every possible way if all your eggs are in one basket, but if you're hucking a half dozen of them out to L2, so what if one fails en route? (I know, I know, Congress only approved the budget for the one telescope, not a fleet of them, and they certainly wouldn't approve cost+ for a second and third one, despite what the eventual budget is. Harumph.)

I mean, my point here is for the commodification of instruments. Here's one for the deep IR, here's one for UV, here's one that can only see in a particular shade of taupe because maybe there's somethin' there.
posted by Kyol at 6:52 PM on December 4, 2021 [2 favorites]


Yes, the ability to use commodity sensors and buses and chuck multiples into orbit does (usually) make things a lot cheaper. Not so much when you're still only building a few at a time since a large part of the cost is keeping a production line in service.

That's why DBS birds being sent to geostationary orbit are still quite costly despite being largely standardized, but commercial Earth sensing cubesats are getting very cheap. The latter are made in sufficient volume that you're not also paying for six months worth of the fixed costs to keep the production line open.
posted by wierdo at 7:04 PM on December 4, 2021 [2 favorites]


The fact that the DOD had two spare hubble-class spy satellites just lying around that they donated to NASA suggests that these things may get cheaper at scale. Although given the scale of the military budget, they could be building a few JWST per year from what falls in the couch cushions.
posted by joeyh at 7:27 PM on December 4, 2021 [5 favorites]


Brandon Blatcher, the first things that JWST will look at will be mostly calibration fields and stars, which will be super out of focus, and the mirrors won't be aligned, so they'll look terrible. Starting in January, all of the instruments will be going through a period of "commissioning," where we turn everything on and run through a whole litany of calibration tests to make sure everything is focused and running the way it should.

At that point, NASA has a list of initial targets for press release images, and they have kept these targets a secret, even from us on the camera team. I would hazard a guess that it'll be something from a famous nearby object, like a nebula, or a close galaxy that Hubble imaged, as a point of comparison. Look out for that at some point in the middle of next year.

After that, the first cycle of JWST proposals has been set, and you can read all about what JWST will be looking at during Cycle 1, and in the Early Release Observations, here. It's a little dense, but it's neat to see the huge variety of observations that JWST will tackle.
posted by RubixsQube at 7:42 PM on December 4, 2021 [12 favorites]


There is a specific technique for colorizing deep space images called the Hubble Palette

The thing is, Hubble has broadband instruments specifically design to closely approximate what the human eye can see. But images taken from narrow-band instruments, or ones that are mapped from outside the visible spectrum are presented (justifiably) in color as well. The problem is that lots of news agencies and press releases don't differentiate between false color (mapped) and true color (filtered broadband) so it's often hard to know what you're seeing in a given image.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 7:35 AM on December 5, 2021


just about every photo you've seen of outer space, aside from ones taken by individuals on the ISS, and images of Mars after 2012, are colorized before release.
And images of Mars in 1965 were colored* by hand with pastels procured from the local art shop.

*: The image was gray scale sensor data and the colors were assigned based on intensity; according to Grumm it is somewhat of a coincidence that it the palette looks very similar to the visible spectrum.
posted by autopilot at 11:00 AM on December 5, 2021 [3 favorites]


1) Natalie Wolchover is a fantastic writer. I have been reading her in Quanta for years; and she always succeeds in conveying both why what she's writing about is important; and the sheer pleasure of the quest involved.

2) I cannot wait for this to get up in space and get images for the Adler Planetarium's 3D TV . I also cannot wait for the planetarium to reopen finally in March 2022. We are living through the third golden age of cosmology and JWST is only going to add to that thrill!
posted by indianbadger1 at 1:40 PM on December 5, 2021


I wish they would rebuild Arecibo and schedule a new mission to service the Hubble.
posted by interogative mood at 6:19 PM on December 5, 2021 [1 favorite]


NASA Webb Snowflake design for all your wintry decorative needs!
posted by the primroses were over at 1:05 PM on December 9, 2021


Delayed again, "because of an issue seen during an electrical interface test between the rocket and the payload".
posted by clawsoon at 4:31 AM on December 15, 2021


"Son of a bitch, who plugged it into the 240v ground service rail?"
posted by Kyol at 6:52 PM on December 15, 2021


I see that the live broadcast of the launch has finished, but I haven't watched it yet. Here's hoping that nothing went boom in the wrong way.
posted by clawsoon at 9:36 AM on December 25


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