All text turned out to be an unexpected star on NASA’s Web Images

All text turned out to be an unexpected star on NASA’s Web Images


In the days since NASA publicly shared amazing photos taken by the James Webb Space Telescope, people have been buzzing and aaet. They have marveled at the stunning beauty of these images and the significant lessons about the universe that can exist in the sharp cosmic details.

But it’s not just the pictures that have impressed people.

Many have also been struck by the thoughtful descriptions that have followed them.

“If anyone ever tells you that alt text is not important, show them @NASA’s alt text for the #WebSpaceTelescope images,” Kate Meyers Emery twitret. “They are able to convey the wonders and beauty of these in words, making these amazing views available.”

“This is not just a great picture from @NASA, it’s a brilliant example of how to use alt text,” the Royal National Institute of Blind People tweeted. “Do you agree?”

“It’s clear that NASA’s digital team puts a lot of thought and care into how they described the Web Telescope images, and their descriptions feel like a love letter to space exploration and the endless wonders of the universe,” Alexa Heinrich, of Accessible Social, wrote in a newsletter on e -mail. “Accessibility expands the world for everyone, and makes even distant stars achievable. It really is a beautiful thing.”

The all-text feature on social media platforms allows a person to describe an image in words, so that someone who is blind or partially sighted can use screen reader technology to know what is being displayed. In other words, it makes an image available to everyone. And as for the recent images shared by NASA, it allowed everyone to know that they were looking at celestial scenes full of colors and shapes.

NASA unveils the first images from the James Webb Space Telescope

NASA should of course have included these descriptions with its images. That it did was not surprising. What turned out to be unexpected was how poetically striking and scientifically accurate these descriptions ended up being.

“The image is divided horizontally by a wavy line between a cloud landscape that forms a fog along the lower part and a relatively clear upper part,” it says in one. “The speck above both is a starfish field, showing countless stars in many sizes. The smallest of these are small, distant and faint points of light. The largest of these appears larger, closer, brighter and more completely resolved with 8-point diffraction spikes. the upper part of the image is bluish, and has whipped translucent strip-like stripes rising from the fog below. “

That description can be appreciated by someone who is blind or some WHO want to know more about astronomy or Anyone who appreciates the care of choosing just the right word.

If you do not need alt text to interpret an image, it is easy to overlook that function. But the conversations that NASA images have encouraged are important, because they show how little it takes to bring more people into an experience.

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The team that produced these descriptions works for the Space Telescope Science Institute from Baltimore, and they have been aware of the response.

“It’s been very encouraging to see how much this has affected people,” said Tim Rhue II, a senior specialist in informal education at the Space Telescope Science Institute. “It’s something that is deeply personal to so many people. On top of that, we do it because we want to make astronomy accessible to everyone. Astronomy and dinosaurs are the gateways to science for so many people. “

A team that included writers, designers, researchers and teachers worked together to put together the package of images the audience saw, and the all-text was not an afterthought, Rhue said. He said the team had a relatively short time to produce these descriptions. He saw the pictures just a week before the audience did. But they had spent the previous two years discussing availability and working with a consulting firm to create an all-text-style book. During that process, they practiced writing descriptions and learning what did not work.

“I thought brevity was a very important thing. It’s a common misconception,” Rhue said, pointing to the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” and saying that recent pictures required more words than that to capture them fully. “More than 1,000 words were written about each of these pictures, and we could go on.”

The extended descriptions and alt text of the images can be found by clicking on the gallery on the Webb Space Telescope website. An alternate text begins: “Two views of the same object, the southern nebula, are displayed side by side. Both have black backgrounds full of tiny bright stars and distant galaxies. Both show the planetary nebula as a deformed oval that is slightly angled from top left to bottom right. “

Rhue said that the team has heard from the audience via email, social media and the website, and that for him, the personal stories have been the strongest.

“As a blind person who has had dreams of doing astronomy since I was 6 … thanks to the one who not only remembered to write all-text for this – but did it in such a beautiful way,” software developer and accessibility activist Katie Durden wrote on Twitter. “I probably will never know who you are. But you touched my heart this day, alt-copywriter.”

After Kelly Lepo tweeted that she was a member of the “little team” at the Space Telescope Science Institute that created the alt text, Durden shared that tweet and wrote about having dreamed since childhood of being able to see the stars.

“You brought me closer to that dream than ever with your alt text,” Durden wrote. “I have no words to say thank you.”

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