The James Webb Space Telescope unveils the universe as you've never seen or heard it before |

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

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James Webb Space Telescope Reveals a Universe of Sights and Sounds

This is the universe as we have never known it before. The James Webb Space Telescope returns incredible images of deep space that advanced scientists believe will “change astronomy forever”.

It’s not just that we can see in space and time billions of years ago. The magic is that you can see anything.

Although its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, offered incredible views, Webb, which was developed in partnership with NASA and Canadian and European space agencies, is able to go back even further in time and show us more details of what lies beyond planet Earth. .

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Take the recent Pillars of Creation post that was first captured in 1995 by Hubble. In the original image of the region, which is believed to be a stellar part of the galaxy, pillars of gaseous clouds that look like long fingers reach into the sky.

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

This is 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).


By sensing infrared light, Webb can see objects so far away that the light they emit takes more than 13.5 billion years to reach Earth. This means that Webb is also like a time machine in that he can see what the universe was like when the earth and the sun were formed.

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However, what Webb returns is invisible to humans because we cannot 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 Webb’s information into something visible.

Senior Science Visuals Developer Joe DePasquale creates images from the James Webb Space Telescope.

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

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With help from NASA scientists, Pagan and DePasquale break down the images into wavelengths. “We apply color based on these wavelengths. And so the shortest wavelength filters we have, we use blue for those. And as we go to longer and longer wavelengths, we go to greens and then reds,” says DePasquale.

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

Joey Ruffini/Global News

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

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

“We understand the universe. We understand each other. It’s so intriguing to have this new perspective, this big picture. A lot of people can say, “Oh, that makes me feel small,” but I think for a lot of people it makes you feel unified, connected, part of something so big and so beautiful. So you are part of something great.

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


These images alone are breathtaking, but now a Canadian scientist is adding another level of emotion to it all.

Matt Russo, a University of Toronto physicist and sonification specialist, is working with musician and friend Andrew Santaguida to add sound to the universe.

“The whole process felt really natural because we were combining things that we are passionate about: music, astronomy, math, computer programming, science, communication – all of these things rolled into one,” says Russian.

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

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

“[It] is an incredible solar system with seven Earth-sized planets. But they also found themselves locked into a musical pattern called orbital resonance. And so it made it really natural to convert their movements into musical rhythms and pitches,” Russo says.

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

“We kind of on our own, (started) sonifying different things that (NASA) had released and we were sending them and they were just starting to release it on their own. And then eventually, it led us to work for them professionally.

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

Brent Rose/World News

Some of the sonifications met with public skepticism, such as when they made the sound of 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 re-synthesize a sound,” Russo explains.

“Some outlets would say this is real recorded sound from a black hole, like having a microphone in space, which we know wouldn’t work for a couple of reasons. It So it’s important, when we sonicate, to present it exactly for what it is: that it’s data converged into sound.

Russo and Santaguida are now working on the latest images from the James Webb Telescope.

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

According to Russo, the sound of data can sometimes be a pleasant surprise. Other times they have to be a little more creative to figure out the best way to 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 is going to be triggered by stars,” he adds. “People seem to have a hunch that the stars would make some sort of bell or chime sound.”

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

Sonifications offer people living with visual impairment the possibility of discovering new perspectives on what exists.

“The goal is to communicate those interesting features in the picture, through sound,” Russo explains.

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

“I never imagined experiencing astronomy this way,” she told The New Reality.

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

“When I first experienced sonification, I felt it in a way that was not intellectual; it was sensory and visceral. So I sometimes wonder if that’s what clairvoyants feel when looking at the night sky,” Malec says.

She now works regularly with Russo, Santaguida and NASA to help translate Webb’s images to best benefit people living with visual impairments.

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

“I wonder if I was a kid now and encountered things like sonification and image descriptions and astronomical stuff, would a career in STEM make more sense? Would it be more appealing? And I think the answer is yes. So I think that reason is really good for today’s blind and visually impaired kids to grow up with that as usual, I think that’s incredibly valuable.

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