Reality Check: The Webb Telescope Images are False Colors

The Universe looks nothing like the photos we’re being shown

Mookie Spitz
2 min readJul 14, 2022

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Not to piss on anybody’s parade, but the new Webb telescope and its amazing images are COLORIZED.

In other words, you’re not seeing these amazing cosmological objects as they would appear out of a space ship’s window.

The main reason the new space telescope has such astonishing resolution is because it senses the infra-red.

That should be our first clue, especially when front page news articles announce the “full-color images.”

Even the reddish hues are artificially colorized, because those long wavelenghts are invisible to our eyes, too.

None of this is to say that what you are seeing isn’t “real” — I’m merely pointing out that the colors are interpreted.

That said, the colors you see in these altered photos do accurately reflect gradations in the light coming from these objects.

And as such, the colorized photos certainly reveal physical structures and details otherwise hidden to us.

The swirling clouds of dust are there, the gorgeous galactic spirals, the gravitational lensing, the jaw-dropping scale.

But the colors aren’t the colors you would ever actually see. Looking out that space ship’s window, you’d see white blobs.

What’s interesting to me is that none of this is ever mentioned in the press. This article I just googled is from 2016, for example.

Cutting edge science is expensive, especially $10B projects like the Webb. These photos are made pretty to keep the money flowing.

None of this is anything new, of course. Hubble images were similarly colorized, and it made observations with visible light.

So continue to enjoy these stunning images, and revel in the imminent revolution they will trigger in cosmology and physics.

Also keep in mind that what you see is almost never the whole story, even and especially in the “hard” sciences.

Everyone is working an angle, manipulating the media to get more clicks, make more money. At least here the result is positive.

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Mookie Spitz

Chicago native now in New York City by way of LA. Hungarian parents, Korean kids, racks of electric guitars, shelves of Rubik's Cubes, and mountains of LEGO.