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

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

NASA released a new photograph of the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 last week showing a galaxy cluster in space that is invisible to the human eye.

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

While most of the world was collectively gasping, the Reddit user was pizzafourlife’s reaction to the photos: Is that it?

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

/ NASA, ESA, CSA, 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 pissed,” wrote pizzafourlife. “Without context, [it] is just a space image. ”

For thousands of people on Reddit and Twitter, this context was provided by an interactive tool created by John Christensen. The web app adjusts images created by the Hubble Space Telescope and the Web Telescope so that users can compare them side by side in real time.

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

“I grew up looking at the Hubble pictures,” Christensen told NPR over the phone. “I would watch a lot of PBS space documentaries with my dad and watch a lot of astrophotography, mostly from Hubble.”

When he saw the first of the Webb photos released on Monday, Christensen was impressed, but like pizza fourlife, he did not fully understand the improvement between Hubble and Webb without a point of reference.

“What’s different about that?” he asked about Webb. “Why did we spend so much human engineering and time and money making this thing?”

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

It reached tens of thousands of people, and received thousands of responses. Christenson said many of the answers expressed the same kind of wonder he felt about the leap from Hubble to Webb.

“I think my favorite answers were people who said they showed this interactive to their kids and made the kids really excited about it,” Christenson said. “That’s how I ended up going into science, was in a way inspired by Hubble images.”

Even science educator and author Hank Green retweeted Christensen’s app.

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

“[Hubble] has always been wonderful to me, “he said.” It has been, you know, the pinnacle of human potential. ”

“Hubble is extraordinary. And Webb goes far beyond that,” Christenson added.

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

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