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How can I view the differences in space between James Webb telescope and Hubble?

A new app has been released which demonstrates the power of the new space telescope over its predeccessor.

A cluster of young stars resembles an aerial burst, surrounded by clouds of interstellar gas and dust, in a nebula NGC 3603 located in the constellation Carina.

It is just over a week since the first reveal of images from the James Webb space telescope. It has produced some of the most amazing images of space since the launch of the Hubble telescope in 1990. James Webb is the natural successor.

The "Cosmic Cliffs" of the Carina Nebula.
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The "Cosmic Cliffs" of the Carina Nebula.NASAvia REUTERS

For many who do not consume images of the galaxy that frequently, the difference between Hubble and James Webb may not be so obvious. Space is space, right? An ever-growing expanse of darkness surely can’t look too different between pictures.

Well, they can. Thanks to the folk at WebbCompare, the differences can be clearly illustrated online.

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Using Webbcompare

John Christensen, the creator of the website, made it as simple to use as possible; there is a simple drag slider showing the overlap between Hubble and James Webb. The difference is clear to see.

“I think my favorite responses were people saying they showed this interactive to their kids and got their kids very excited about it,” Christensen told NPR. “That’s how I ended up going into science, was kind of being inspired by Hubble images.”

To access the website on desktop or mobile device you can use this link.

Why are the pictures so different?

James Webb uses infrared sensors to capture its images. The wavelengths are so long that they cannot be sensed by the human eye. This produces images from space which actually happened many years in the past, 13.5 billion years ago to be exact.

In contrast, Hubble takes its images at the optical and ultraviolet wavelengths. According to NASA, Webb is not the replacement, “we prefer to call it a successor.” Hubble will show the visible image that the human eye would be able to interpret, while James Webb will be able to look beyond towards levels of radiation usually unseeable.

Infrared images show points further back in time due to Einstein’s General Relativity theorum. As the universe is constantly expanding, objects are moving further away from each other. As this happens, the light in that space also expands and the wavelengths get longer. These are the waves James Webb can see.


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