Austin (KXAN) – For the first time, the public has access to data from the James Webb Space Telescope. Why? To create art!
The release is part of the NASA Astrophoto Challenge. an annual competition to see who can create interesting art using data collected from telescopes both in space and on Earth.
This year, participants will create works of art from one of the most famous space objects: the Pillars of Creation.
Telescopes include Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer, Herschel and, for the first time, the James Webb Space Telescope. This telescope was launched last year and has been able to see light since the beginning of the universe.
“This data that comes from these telescopes is actually numbers, right? It’s not an image,” said Mary Dussaud, director of the science education program at the Center for Astrophysics. CFA, which solves this problem, is a joint laboratory of Harvard University and the Smithsonian Institution.
Understanding Space Telescope Data and Space Images
Creating an image with data collected by telescopes is usually done by professional artists. The Astrophoto Challenge allows the public to do the same. “People can use the same tools and techniques as professionals,” Dussault said.
The Pillars of Creation, located in the Eagle Nebula, is one of the most famous celestial objects. A nursery for newborn stars, the Pillars were first photographed by Hubble in 1995. In 2022, they were again photographed by the Webb Telescope.
By holding the contest, Dussault said people will get a better idea of how these images are made and the details of the nebula.
“Working with raw image data for the public is about exploring the nature of the data itself. This is true not only for astronomy, but for all areas of STEM.”
How does Astrophoto Challenge 2023 work?
With the help of a special web portal, a collection of data from telescopes is demonstrated to the public. Each dataset shows different wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum.
“With these different wavelengths of light that we’re starting to see through [celestial bodies] and start seeing what’s inside them,” Dussault said.
For example, data from the Hubble telescope show visible light. Visible light is the part of the electromagnetic spectrum that our eyes can see.
However, the Chandra Space Telescope uses X-ray data. X-rays are one of the hottest types of light and are emitted by exploding stars.
The James Webb Space Telescope can see infrared light, which is colder than visible light but travels farther. “This is the first time we’ve been able to offer the public real-world access to raw data from the JWST telescope to play with,” Dussault said.
Creating Art Using Telescope Data
The Astrophoto Challenge web portal starts with video tutorials. Users are then given the option to color the various datasets. “You can choose bluer colors to represent higher temperatures.”
Color isn’t the only thing users have access to. The web portal offers a complete set of photo editing options. Mixing and matching different images, colors and changing the images in different ways can highlight different parts of the Pillars of Creation.
“When you combine these wavelengths with each other, you can see how these shapes are created,” Dussault said.
As you play with images, Dussaud says, you begin to see things you don’t normally see.
When users have finished creating their images, they will receive a copy that they can print. “They actually look great on glossy paper.”
After that, they will be able to submit their work to the competition. NASA scientists and teachers will evaluate the work. “We don’t pick winners, but we pick outstanding entries.”
Between 30 and 40 applications will be highlighted and displayed on the website of the Center for Astrophysics. All participants will receive a certificate.
The call will last until the end of February. You can join the 2023 Astrophysics Challenge on their website.