NASA Logo, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Infrared: Beyond the Visible

As many of you know, aside from Blueshift, I work on the James Webb Space Telescope, which will be the successor the Hubble Space Telescope. It’s not a replacement, partly because Hubble isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but also because the Webb is primarily an infrared telescope. Astronomers use something called a Decadal Survey to decide what the priorities are in astronomy for the next decade. During one of these surveys, it was decided that the astronomical community should study galaxy, star and planet formation in the Universe.

To see the very first stars and galaxies form in the early Universe, we have to look deep into space to look back in time. This is because it takes light time to travel from there to here and the farther out we look, the further we look back in time. The Universe is expanding, and therefore the farther we look, the faster objects are moving away from us, redshifting the light. Redshift means that light that is emitted as ultraviolet or visible light is shifted more and more to redder wavelengths, into the infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Because of this, Webb was designed as an infrared telescope.

In order to explain the above in terms anyone can understand, our friends at the Space Telescope Science Institute created this video called “Infrared: Beyond the Visible.” Here is how they explain the video.

The James Webb Space Telescope will be the most powerful infrared telescope ever launched into space … but do you know why that matters? Check out “Infrared: Beyond the Visible,” in which we explain everything you’ll ever need to know about infrared astronomy via paper cutouts. It has galaxies. Planets. Redshifting. Swimming aliens. Paranoid astronomers. Watch it now, before everyone else knows more about infrared than you do.

We chatted briefly with Stephanie Smith and Tracy Vogel, two of the video’s creators, and asked them, “Why make a cartoon about infrared astronomy?” Here’s their answer:

We want to communicate to as many people as possible why the James Webb Space Telescope is important, in large part because in explaining it we are also educating them about how the universe we live in works. But to truly understand some of these concepts requires a lot of different information that we knew a big portion of the audience who loves and appreciates Hubble’s images doesn’t necessarily have. We needed a primer that starts from the basics and works its way up from there. It’s a lot of information to take in all at once, so we knew it’d have to be energetic and entertaining if we wanted people to watch it — and pay attention! — all the way through. Making the science case for Webb’s unique capabilities involves some fairly complex concepts. Cartoons are a great way to break down complicated ideas into their simplest form to help visualize and focus in on what’s really going on. Folks have been making educational cartoon for years for the same reasons, and those efforts were a big inspiration for our own project.

But this is just a starting point. We had so much to cover, we couldn’t cover any of it in great depth. That’s why we’ve put together a resource page with links to other videos and websites that have more information about infrared astronomy and the Webb telescope, including some great videos from the Spitzer Space Telescope and other NASA missions, for anyone who wants to explore further.

You can download this video and see these resources about infrared astronomy at Space Telescope Science Institute’s original page for this video.

Read the NASA feature.

Tags: ,

Comments are closed.

NASA Logo, National Aeronautics and Space Administration