We’ve been blown away by the images coming in from faraway galaxies taken by the Webb Space Telescope. The vivid colors are lovely, but how real are they? The telescope only collects infrared and near-infrared light, and humans can’t see infrared light, so where are all those colors coming from?
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Image developers on the Webb team are tasked with turning the telescope’s infrared image data into some of the most vivid views of the cosmos we’ve ever had. They assign various infrared wavelengths to colors on the visible spectrum, the familiar reds, blues, yellows, etc. But while the processed images from the Webb team aren’t literally what the telescope saw, they’re hardly inaccurate.
So while the colors are added, they are not added arbitrarily. You could call it a translation of sorts. And the colors are necessary to detect features of the original image that otherwise couldn’t be discerned. It’s our own fault, really, for not developing the ability to see light in its full range. Heavenly bodies shine in ultraviolet light, microwaves, and x-rays, as well as infrared light, which would all have to be translated for humans to see them. Read how and why this is done at Gizmodo.
(Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI)