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Colorizing Images from the James Webb Space Telescope


Areas of Science
Time Required
Short (2-5 days)
Ben Finio, PhD, Science Buddies
*Note: For this science project you will need to develop your own experimental procedure. Use the information in the summary tab as a starting place. If you would like to discuss your ideas or need help troubleshooting, use the Ask An Expert forum. Our Experts won't do the work for you, but they will make suggestions and offer guidance if you come to them with specific questions.

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The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has shown us some amazing images of space, like its first "deep field" image (Figure 1). The JWST sees the universe in the infrared part of the electromagnet spectrum, which is not visible to the human eye. How, then, does it produce color images like the one in Figure 1? Scientists must colorize the images, or apply "false color." They map different bands of the infrared spectrum to colors of visible light, resulting in an image humans can view. Luckily, the raw infrared data is free for anyone to download—so you can download the source files and make your own colorized images!
The James Webb Space Telescope's first deep field image, showing thousands of galaxies.
Figure 1. JWST's first deep field image, which shows thousands of galaxies visible in just a tiny area of the sky. You can download a higher-resolution version of the image here. Zoom in and look at all the galaxes!

The Science Buddies project X-Ray Vision: Seeing Into Space gives a detailed walk-through of this process for the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, another telescope that sees space in part of the electromagnet spectrum not visible to the human eye (x-rays). You can follow a similar procedure to work with JWST images. To do so, you need to access the Flexible Image Transport System (FITS) files for the JWST following these steps (credit to Nick from AstroExploring for these instructions):

  1. Go to the website for the Barbara A. Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes.
  2. Click "Advanced Search" at the top.
  3. Type "JWST" in the "Mission" box and press enter.
  4. To narrow down the search, in the "Object Name" box, search for the astronomical catalog ID of the object you want to find (for example, you need to search for "NGC3324" not "Carina Nebula").
  5. This will display a list of images taken with filters for different wavelengths. You can read more about the filters on the NIRCam Filters page.
  6. Download the images that you want. Note that some of the files are very large, so the downloads might take a while.
  7. Unzip the downloaded folders and find the FITS files.

You should now be ready to follow the same procedure described in the X-Ray Vision: Seeing Into Space project. Can you create your own colorized images from the JWST's source files?

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If you like this project, you might enjoy exploring these related careers:

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General citation information is provided here. Be sure to check the formatting, including capitalization, for the method you are using and update your citation, as needed.

MLA Style

Finio, Ben. "Colorizing Images from the James Webb Space Telescope." Science Buddies, 5 June 2023, https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/Astro_p048/astronomy/james-webb-space-telescope-colorization-images. Accessed 24 Feb. 2024.

APA Style

Finio, B. (2023, June 5). Colorizing Images from the James Webb Space Telescope. Retrieved from https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/Astro_p048/astronomy/james-webb-space-telescope-colorization-images

Last edit date: 2023-06-05
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