August 11, 2022

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This app compares Hubble and Webb images – the differences are astronomical

This app compares Hubble and Webb images - the differences are astronomical

NASA released a new image of the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 last week that depicts a group of galaxies in space invisible to the human eye.

The image was captured by the James Webb Space Telescope, a $10 billion satellite that took decades of research and innovation to develop.

Like most countries in the world gasp collectivelyReddit user pizzafourlife reacted to the photos: That’s it?

/NASA, ESA, CSA and STScI

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NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI

An image of the SMACS 0723 galaxy cluster taken by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.

“I was amazed,” wrote pizzafourlife. without context, [it] It’s just a satellite image.”

For thousands of people on Reddit and Twitter, this context has been provided by a file interactive tool Created by John Christensen. The web application aligns images generated by the Hubble Space Telescope and the Webb Telescope, allowing users to compare them side by side in real time.

Christensen is a software developer, but he studied physics in college and was fascinated by astronomy while growing up.

“I grew up really enjoying looking at Hubble images,” Christensen told NPR by phone. “I was watching a lot of space documentaries on PBS with my dad and looking at a lot of star photography, mostly from Hubble.”

When he saw Webb’s first photos released on Monday, Christensen was impressed, but like pizzafourlife, he didn’t fully realize the improvement between Hubble and Webb without a point of reference.

“What’s so different about that?” Ask about the web. “Why did we put so much human engineering, time, and money into creating this thing?”

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So he coded the app to answer his questions, and shared it on Reddit and Twitter, where it went viral.

It reached tens of thousands of people, and got thousands of responses. Kristenson said that many of the responses expressed the same kind of exclamation he felt about the leap from Hubble to Webb.

“I think my favorite reactions were people who said they showed this interactively to their kids and got their kids really excited about it,” Christenson said. “That’s how I ended up getting into science, it was kind of inspired by the Hubble images.”

Even science teacher and author Hank Green retweeted Christenson’s app.

For Christenson, comparisons between the Hubble and Webb images are puzzling.

“[Hubble] He said, “It was always so amazing to me. It was, you know, the pinnacle of human potential.”

“Hubble is extraordinary. Webb is much more than that,” Christson added.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To learn more, visit https://www.npr.org.