You’ve seen the James Webb Space Telescope’s first full-color images, right? A stellar nursery revealing previously invisible stars, a giant exoplanet’s atmosphere examined, a group of galaxies, a beautiful planetary nebula and the deepest image of our universe ever captured.
Pretty cool, huh? But were they real?
Of course they were real!
Were they exactly as Webb captured them in one single image, like you taking a photo with your phone?
No—not at all.
Webb is designed to be sensitive to light that we cannot see. It also has four science instruments and seventeen modes.
“When you get the data down, they they don’t look anything like a beautiful color image,” said Klaus Pontoppidan, Webb project scientist at STScI, who heads-up a team of 30 expert image manipulators. “They don’t hardly look like anything at all [and] it’s only if you know what to look for that you can appreciate them.”
Webb’s engineers had to heavily manipulate the images we saw a lot before they were published, and for some pretty simple and common-sense reasons.
So what’s going on?
This is not just snapping a picture on a phone.
Planning the images
First comes the shot selection. NASA was looking for objects that would produce a nice frame, have structure and make use of color—while also highlighting science.
Webb cannot see every part of the sky at any given time. So given that the launch of the telescope was delayed multiple times, there was no way that engineers could meticulously plan the first images until Webb went to skywards last December.
When it did so, engineers had a list of about 70 targets, which were selected to demonstrate the breadth of science web was capable of, and which could herald spectacular colour images.
“Once we knew when we would be able to take the data, we could go down that list and pick the highest prioritized targets that were visible at that time,” said Pontoppidan. “The images were planned for a long time [and] there’s been a lot of work going into stimulating what the observations would look like so that everything could be configured just right.”
How Webb’s data gets back to Earth
Before engineers can get to work manipulating Webb’s images the raw data has to be returned to our planet from a million miles away in space. That’s done by using NASA JPL’s Deep Space Network (DSN), which is how engineers communicate with, and receive data from, its 30+ robotic probes in the solar system and beyond—including Webb. There are three complexes in the DSN, each placed 120º from each other; California, Madrid in Spain and Canberra in Australia.
Radio waves are very dependable, but slow. The data comes in at a ponderous couple of megabits per second (Mbps). However, the DSN will soon be upgraded from slow radio transmissions to super-fast “space lasers” that could massively increase data rates to as much as 10 or even 100 times faster.
“We plan things out, upload them to the observatory, take the data and get them back down on Earth—then we have another long period of time where we process the data,” said Pontoppidan.
Why the colors in Webb’s photos are fake
Are the Webb telescope images colorized? Are the colors in space photos real? No, they are not. The Webb telescope sees in red. It’s up there specifically to detect infrared light, the faintest and farthest light in the cosmos.
It essentially sees in heat radiation, not visible light. It sees another part of the electromagnetic spectrum:
Think of a rainbow. At one end is red at the other end is blue or violet. That rainbow is, in reality, much wider, but both extremes represent the limits to what colors the human eye can perceive. Beyond blue are shorter and shorter wavelengths of light that we have no names for. Ditto beyond red, where the wavelength of light gets longer.
That’s where Webb is looking—the infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum.
It uses masking techniques—filters—to allow it to detect faint sources of light next to very bright ones. But none of it is in “color.”
So how can the photos we see possibly be in color for us?
How Webb’s photos are colorized
Webb’s images are moved up the electromagnetic spectrum from a part we can’t perceive into the visible light part that we can see.
They take mono brightness images from Webb using up to 29 different narrowband filters, each of which detects different wavelengths of infrared light. They them assign each filter’s collected light a different visible color, from the reddest red light has the longest wavelength) to blue (which has the shortest wavelength). They then create a composite image.
Is that cheating? All the engineers are doing is taking radiation from one part of the spectrum our eyes can’t see and shifting it into another part of the spectrum we can see.
It’s like playing a song in a different key.
Besides, all cameras—including your smartphone’s camera—use filters to take the images you see. No, not Instagram filters, but individual red, green and blue filters that, when combined, produces a visible image that looks “real.”
If you think Webb’s images are not real then you also have to think that your own smartphone’s photos are fake.
How long it takes to process Webb’s images
It’s a complex process that for data from Webb just hadn’t been done before. So it takes a few weeks for each image to emerge in their full colorful glory.
“Typically, the process from raw telescope data to final, clean image that communicates scientific information about the universe can take anywhere from weeks to a month,” said Alyssa Pagan, a science visuals developer at STScI.
It was surely worth the wait.
“In the first images we have just a few days worth of observations,” said Pontoppidan. “This is really only the beginning and we’re only scratching the surface.”
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.
University of Calgary study examines if Mars could have once supported life – Ottawa.CityNews.ca
Was there ever life on Mars?
Using data from the Curiosity rover, a University of Calgary (UofC) scientist is studying Mars’ geology “for signs the planet could have once supported life.”
It’s part of the NASA-led Mars Science Laboratory mission to examine the rocks on the surface of Mars, as they could offer evidence of life on the Red Planet.
“Our goal is to place constraints on whether Mars was habitable,” Tutolo said. “And if Mars was habitable, then we can think about whether it actually did evolve life.”
#UCalgary scientist, Dr. Benjamin Tutolo, studies Mars’ geology for signs the planet could have once supported life, using data from the Curiosity Rover https://t.co/dQTRewP5sR @UofC_Science pic.twitter.com/PRtwOCDP3o
— U Calgary (@UCalgary) August 12, 2022
The study will be using data collected by Curiosity as it was slowly climbing Mount Sharp 10 years ago to finally land in the centre of the Gale crater.
The rover has analyzed the chemistry and minerology of 1,211 samples of rocks and soil surfaces and sent 2,659 results back to Earth.
Tutolo and his team will do experiments in the laboratory to better understand and interpret the results. They will also conduct field research in British Colombia and run numerical models on a computer.
Study focuses on geological transition of rocks
The team will focus on examining the geological transition of rocks from the oldest layers of sediments to the younger layers “deposited in the crater and which formed Mount Sharp around 3½ billion years” ago.
Tutolo’s study suggests the oldest rocks in the crater are from a lake that is river-fed – “fluviolacustrine environment” –while the younger sediments contain extremely soluble salts – magnesium sulphate salts – such as Epsom salt that can be used for bathing. As these salts are extremely soluble, precipitating them requires all the water to be evaporated.
“We think that it must have been drier on Mars in order to precipitate those minerals. What we’re exploring is how that transition is recorded in the rocks,” Tutolo said.
The research is also taking advantage of the “rare-on-Earth” Basque Lakes near Cache Creek, B.C., that contain magnesium sulphate where the same sulphate minerals found on Mount Sharp on Mars are actively precipitating.
Tutolo is trying to answer this question: “Is there a point where it gets so salty that nothing could live there?”
Since Mars is red as a result of all the iron on its surface where its atmosphere doesn’t have similar levels of oxygen to Earth’s atmosphere, the team is using special tools in the lab to examine sensitive substances in the absence of oxygen, such as an anaerobic chamber that simulates conditions on Mars.
Mars’ geology helps understand Earth’s evolution
Understanding the geological transition on Mars will provide information on whether the planet’s environment would still be habitable in drier and colder environments and whether there’s a potential that life evolved and existed on Mars’ surface at that time. If life did evolve, what evidence can we get from the rocks?
“There was probably a period of time when Mars was getting warm and having water again, and going back and forth (from warmer to colder),” said Tutolo.
He explained that the Earth has experienced ice ages and greenhouse climates as a result of the slight variations in its movement through space, whereas Mars’ movement changes a bit more dramatically, making those cycles more enhanced.
Tutolo also adds that the geological history of early Mars helps understand the history of early Earth as there’s limited access to its geological record from that time.
The limited access to early Earth’s geology is attributed to “plate tectonics whereby, over the eons, the surface gets subsumed into the planet’s mantle as continent-sized slabs of rock collide.”
“But on Mars, all of those rocks have been there since they were deposited, some 3½ billion years or more ago,” Tutolo said. “So we can see those rocks on Mars and understand how life evolved on our planet, going from totally abiotic, or without life at all, to what it is today.”
Blaxtair Inc. embedded pedestrian detection system – Canadian Occupational Safety
Blaxtair is an embedded pedestrian detection system for industrial vehicles, designed to prevent collisions between vehicles and pedestrians in co-activity zones. It has a smart 3D camera able to distinguish a person from other obstacles in real time and alerts operators in case of danger, without unnecessary alarms.
Blaxtair can be equipped to any industrial vehicle, including but not limited to forklifts and wheel loaders, and is perfect for sites within any industry where co-activity between pedestrians and vehicles poses a safety threat (logistics, warehousing, recycling, mining, construction, etc.)
Blaxtair is made up of 3 main parts:
Starburst galaxy shines in new 'whirlpool of gold' photo – Space.com
A mesmerizing new photo captures bright, golden swirling clouds of gas that generate an exceptionally high rate of star formation.
This stellar nursery, a spiral galaxy known as NGC 4303 or Messier 61, is located 50 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Virgo. NGC 4303 is one of the largest galactic members of the Virgo Cluster — a large, nearby grouping of galaxies.
NGC 4303 is considered a starburst galaxy, where an unusually high amount of stars are born. In turn, studying this type of galaxy helps astronomers to better understand star formation across the universe, according to a statement from the European Southern Observatory (ESO).
“Stars form when clouds of cold gas collapse,” ESO officials wrote in the statement. “The energetic radiation from newly born stars will heat and ionize the surrounding remaining gas.”
The photo, taken using the ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile, shows bright swirling clouds of the ionized gas, appearing as a “whirlpool of gold.” The swirling clouds are like cosmic breadcrumbs, tracing the path of new stars being born, according to the statement.
Astronomers using the Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) instrument on the VLT observed NGC 4303 at different wavelengths of light to create this “jewel-like” image. Combining their observations revealed a glowing golden whirlpool, speckled with gas clouds of ionized oxygen, hydrogen and sulfur shown in blue, green and red, respectively.
The recent observations were collected as part of a project called the Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby Galaxies (PHANGS), which aims to uncover nearby galaxies across all wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum, according to the statement.
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