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James Webb Space Telescope challenges artists to see in infrared

Astronomy artists plan to make raw data beautiful

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12:58pm, February 16, 2018
Enterprise nebulae

FIELD OF GREENS  Visualizations of images from the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope could look akin to these from the Spitzer Space Telescope. Both telescopes are designed to see in the infrared. In this Spitzer image of the Enterprise nebulae, 3.5 micrometer light is in blue, 8 micrometer light is green and 24 micrometer light is red.

With an astronomer’s toolkit and an artist’s eye, Zoltan Levay has transformed raw data from the Hubble Space Telescope into stunning space vistas for almost a quarter century (SN: 4/18/15, p. 4). He’s now preparing for a new challenge: Working with light not visible to human eyes.

Levay’s next charge is the James Webb Space Telescope, set to launch in 2019. Unlike Hubble, which mostly views the universe in visible light, Webb will observe in infrared, with wavelengths too long for human eyes to detect.

“We’re translating this invisible light into the visible range, so we can visualize it,” Levay says.

The switch is worth making because the telescope will see further back in time than Hubble — possibly to the

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