Although it’s been more than a week since NASA revealed the first impressive set of James Webb Space Telescope images, the joy that followed the July 12 broadcast hasn’t faded. And at the rate the JWST collects cosmological data, I don’t expect that any time soon.
Already, many astronomers have been eagerly researching public JWST data sets, trying their best to understand the precious information this $10 billion machine picked up while it was installed in space a million miles from Earth. On Monday, for example, Gabriel Brammer, an assistant professor at the University of Copenhagen, posted a stunning purple vortex on Twitter. It’s a living abyss rooted in JWST data downloaded online from the distant galaxy NGC 628, known as Messier 74, or “Phantom Galaxy.”
“Oh, my God,” Brammer tweeted about the glow of the spiral object 30 million light-years away.
Essentially, to arrive at this astonishing result, Brammer processed raw JWST data collected by the Mid-Infrared Range Instrument, or MIRI, that was buried inside an electronic portal called the Barbara A. Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes. Next, Brammer set different color filters for the wavelengths detected by MIRI as emanating from Messier 74 — a galaxy filled with molecules called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons — to make them really pop.
Brammer wrote in response to curious commenters: “For a bit more context, the purple cast here is actually ‘real’ in the sense that emissions from interstellar cigarette smoke (PAH particles) make the filters used for the blue and red channels brighter relative to the green In other words, the heavy amethyst grades we see are aesthetically accurate.
But when it comes to the occasional observation and artistic imagining of JWST’s findings, Brammer is by no means alone. In fact, NASA astronomer Janice Lee — who Brammer said is responsible for “planning and executing” the data behind the majesty of violets — took to Twitter with a chilling JWST formula.
A GIF of NGC 7496 switches between Hubble’s visible lens and JWST’s infrared lens in order to illuminate “dark dust lanes, revealing in detail the early stages of star formation,” Lee wrote in a tweet. Surprisingly, this beautiful display is part of a larger project that I’m part of: a program called Phangs, or Physics at High Angular Resolution in Nearby Galaxies.
According to NASA, Phangs has a mission to reveal the secrets of star formation with JWST while simultaneously sharing any discoveries with the entire astronomical community. In short, the idea is to help scientists around the world join hands while watching the JWST, thus speeding up the process of decoding the unfiltered universe.
OK, but wait. there is more.
Some scientists announced on Twitter that they have begun submitting papers based on JWST information for peer review. All this happens very, very quickly. For example, Mike Engiser, a scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute, posted on Twitter about presenting a JWST-related study related to a transient and potential supernova. According to Engesser, this potential stellar explosion was captured by the JWST’s near-infrared camera. Notably, Brammer also assisted this team with its analysis.
At the top left, Engesser explains, you can see the color composite image from JWST’s NIRCam data, and on the right, the optical version from the Hubble Space Telescope for the same region, taken in 2011.
But digging deeper, literally and figuratively, many researchers have also focused on what may be the “oldest galaxy we’ve ever seen,” spotted through early-released JWST NIRCam data. To the untrained eye, it appears to be a red dot lurking on a black background.
This galaxy could contain the mass of a billion suns in the arXiv preprint, which also touches another notable galactic object, Harvard astronomer Rohan Naidoo and colleagues say. However, as Naidoo points out, there is another team after this galactic binary puzzle as well. They have also sent a review paper to arXiv.
These findings are already scratching the surface of the datasets that are in the JWST. In just nine days, the astronomy community was able to extract an incredible amount of information from the JWST instruments. It seems that thanks to NASA’s wonderful new lens on the universe, stargazers are bound to see many wonderful years ahead.