New NASA Webb Space Telescope data has astronomers buzzing on Twitter

New NASA Webb Space Telescope data has astronomers buzzing on Twitter

Although it’s been more than a week since NASA revealed its first exquisite set of James Webb Space Telescope images, the excitement following the July 12 transmission hasn’t died down. And at the rate JWST has been collecting cosmic data, I wouldn’t expect it to do so anytime soon.

Already, tons of astronomers have been eagerly sifting through public JWST datasets, trying their best to understand the priceless information this $10 billion machine has captured while anchored in space a million miles from Earth. On Monday, for example, Gabriel Brammer, associate professor at the University of Copenhagen, posted a striking purple swirl on Twitter. It’s a living abyss rooted in the JWST data Brammer downloaded online from the distant galaxy NGC 628, otherwise known as Messier 74 or the “Phantom Galaxy.”

“Oh my goodness,” Brammer tweeted about the 30 million light-years-away, spiraling body’s hypnotic glow.

Initially, to arrive at this fascinating result, Brammer processed raw JWST data collected by the ‘scope’s Mid-Infrared Instrument, or MIRI, which was buried in an online portal called the Barbara A. Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes. Then Brammer assigned different color filters to the wavelengths MIRI detected from Messier 74 – a galaxy full of molecules called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons – to make it really pop.

“For a little bit more context,” Brammer wrote in response to curious commenters, “the purple color here is actually ‘real’ in the sense that emissions from interstellar cigarette smoke (PAH molecules) make the filters used for blue and red channels lighter compared to the green ones.” In other words, the heavy amethyst colors we see are sort of aesthetically accurate.

But when it comes to casually reading and artistically imagining JWST’s findings, Brammer is not the least bit alone. In fact, NASA astronomer Janice Lee — who Brammer said is responsible for “planning and executing” the data behind the violet majesty — also took to Twitter with a chilling JWST concoction.

It’s a GIF of galaxy NGC 7496 alternating between Hubble’s visible lens and JWST’s infrared lens to illuminate “dark dust lanes, revealing the earliest stages of star formation in detail,” Lee wrote in the tweet. Fascinatingly, this beautiful rendering is part of a larger project Lee is a part of: A program called Phangs, or Physics at High Angular Resolution in Nearby Galaxies.

According to NASA, the Phangs have a mission to simply unravel the mysteries of star formation with JWST while sharing any discoveries with the entire astronomical community. In short, the idea is to help scientists around the world join forces while looking at JWST, thereby speeding up the process of decoding the unfiltered universe.

OK, but wait. There is more.

Some researchers on Twitter are even announcing that they have started submitting articles based on JWST information for peer review. It all happens very, very quickly. For example, Mike Engesser, staff scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute, tweeted about the submission of a JWST-related study regarding a transient and possible supernova. According to Engesser, this potential stellar explosion was captured by JWST’s near-infrared camera. In particular, Brammer has also helped this team with the analysis.

At top left, as Engesser explains, you can see the composite color image from JWST’s NIRCam data, and at right, the Hubble Space Telescope’s optical version of the same region, taken in 2011.

But digging even deeper, literally and metaphorically, several scientists are also zeroing in on what could be the “oldest galaxy we’ve ever seen,” discovered by early-release 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 arXiv preprint, which also touches on another notable galactic body. But as Naidu points out, there is another layer to the puzzle of this galactic duo as well. They have also submitted a paper for review to arXiv.

And these discoveries only scratch the surface of data sets that JWST already has in its pocket. In just nine days, the astronomy community has managed to squeeze out an incredible amount of information from JWST’s instruments. It looks like thanks to NASA’s amazing new lens on the universe, stargazers will be witnessing many wonderful years to come.

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