Let's Catch Up on NASA's James Webb Space Telescope

Plus: The "Black Hole Destroyer," Joe Biden's weird JWST presentation, an AI that can gain human intuition and much more. ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ 
CNET Science

Hello friends,

Let’s be honest with ourselves. This newsletter is dedicated to the absolute miracle that is NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. OK, but importantly, it’s also not a miracle. Billions of dollars, decades of time and calibers of intellect went into this machine -- and it was all worth it. I haven’t been able to stop thinking of the first JWST photos since they came out.

But more on that in a bit. First, can we talk about that July 11 JWST image reveal?

You know, the one where two people who aren’t astronomers, US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, spent about 3 minutes grasping at straws to discuss a historic moment for astronomy? All after more than an hour of delays, during which we had to listen to ambient chillwave music? To anyone just hearing about this, no, I'm not exaggerating.

The whole situation was… kind of a big fail, and in our top story above, Jackson lays out precisely why. It's worth the read, even if you weren’t sadly bopping with me to the NASA hold music on a loop.

Once you’re done with that, check out our big story about each and every JWST image below.

Jackson and I walk you through the significance of all the beautiful new photos, which areas to focus on and what this means for the future of science. Also linked below you’ll find a timely article by science writer Eric Mack. It’s his investigation into why the JWST’s name is so contentious -- and how NASA is dealing with the dilemma.

Later, if you like the technical details, we also have a deep dive into the JWST's mechanics and how it uses infrared imaging equipment to capture an unfiltered universe for us. We also dissect what “unfiltered universe” even means, and why everyone online keeps saying we’re about to find it.

Bonus non-JWST stuff includes news about Plato, an AI that can gain intuition like a human baby and the scoop about “the black hole destroyer,” an astronomer who found, well, a new black hole.

📧The Mailbag📧

Penny asks: How does NASA select the colors for JWST photos? Aren't they originally black and white?

Hi Penny, first off, yep. All the cool pics we got from the JWST were captured in grayscale originally. The colors we see aren't really what the telescope sees. This is true for Hubble images as well, but it's especially relevant to the JWST.

The JWST is attempting to catch a specific type of light emanating from the distant universe: Infrared light. And, by definition, infrared light isn’t part of the visible spectrum. It’s invisible to human eyes. So, obviously, we don’t have a color to attach to it that our human minds can comprehend. But for analysis purposes, it’s helpful to have colors in an image to make sense of what we’re seeing. So, what scientists do instead is assign colors to each wavelength of light emitted by some spaceborne source.

With the JWST, for instance, six separate wavelength-collecters were given a different color. Longer wavelengths were red, shorter were blue, you get the idea. At the end, voila, we get the final image.

And don't forget, whenever you like, send science questions, thoughts, comments, chats, space-based worries, philosophical ponderings to my email or message me on Twitter! And if you're enjoying this column, please do forward it to your friends!

Enim scientia et astra!

Monisha Ravisetti Monisha Ravisetti
Science Writer, CNET
Analyzing an Invisible Universe Captured by NASA's JWST
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