While it’s been more than a week since NASA unveiled its first exquisite set of images from the James Webb Space Telescope, the joy following the July 12 broadcast has not abated. And at the rate the JWST has been collecting cosmic data, I wouldn’t expect that to happen anytime soon.
Already, tons of astronomers are eagerly scouring the JWST’s public datasets, trying their hardest to understand the priceless information this $10 billion machine captured while anchored in space a million miles from Earth. On Monday, for example, Gabriel Brammer, an associate professor at the University of Copenhagen, posted a striking purple vortex on Twitter. It’s a vivid chasm rooted in JWST data that Brammer downloaded online from the distant galaxy NGC 628, also known as Messier 74 or the “Ghost Galaxy”.
“Oh my God,” Brammer tweeted over the hypnotic glow of the spiral body 30 million light-years away.
Basically, to arrive at this mesmerizing result, Brammer processed raw JWST data collected by the oscilloscope’s Mid-Infrared Instrument, or MIRI, which was buried inside an online portal called the Barbara A. Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes. Next, Brammer assigned various color filters to the wavelengths detected by MIRI emanating from Messier 74 — a galaxy teeming with molecules called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons — to make it really pop.
“For a little more context,” Brammer wrote in response to curious commentators, “the purple color cast here is actually ‘real’ in the sense that the emission of interstellar cigarette smoke (PAH molecules) causes the filters used to the blue and red channels brighter relative to the green.” In other words, the heavy amethyst hues we see are aesthetically accurate.
But when it comes to casually perusing and artistically imagining JWST’s findings, Brammer is far from alone. Indeed, NASA astronomer Janice Lee — who Brammer said was responsible for “planning and executing” the data behind the violet majesty — also took to Twitter with a chilling mix of JWST.
It’s a GIF of the galaxy NGC 7496 that switches between Hubble’s visible lens and JWST’s infrared lens to illuminate “bands of dark dust, revealing early stages of star formation in detail,” Lee wrote in the Tweet. Fascinatingly, this beautiful version is part of a larger project that Lee is a part of: a program called Phangs, or High Angular-Resolution Physics in Nearby Galaxies.
According to NASA, Phangs is on a mission to simply unravel the mysteries of star formation with the JWST, while also sharing any findings with the entire astronomical community. In short, the idea is to help scientists around the world hold hands while watching the JWST, thus speeding up the process of decoding the unfiltered universe.
Okay, but wait. Have more.
Some scientists on Twitter are even announcing that they have started submitting articles based on information from the JWST for peer review. It’s all happening very, very fast. Mike Engesser, a staff scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute, for example, posted on Twitter about the presentation of a JWST-related study on a transient and possible supernova. According to Engesser, this potential stellar flare was captured by the JWST’s near-infrared camera. Notably, Brammer also assisted this team with their analysis.
On the top left, as Engesser explains, you can see the color composite image of the JWST NIRCam data, and on the right, the Hubble Space Telescope optical version of the same region, taken in 2011.
But digging even deeper, literally and metaphorically, several researchers have also focused on what may be the “oldest galaxy we’ve ever seen” detected by early-launch JWST NIRCam data. To the untrained eye, it appears to be a red dot lurking on a pitch-black background.
Harvard University astronomer Rohan Naidu and colleagues say this galaxy could contain the mass of a billion suns in their preprint arXiv, which also touches another remarkable galactic body. However, as Naidu points out, there is another team behind the puzzle of this galaxy duo as well. They also submitted an article for review to arXiv.
And these findings only scratch the surface of the datasets JWST already has in its pocket. 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 witness many magnificent years to come.