Could NASA’s Splashy New Space Pics Be… Overhyped?

On July 12, NASA debuted the much-hyped debut imagery shot by the brand-new James Webb Space Telescope. These “full-color scientific images” show a lot of pretty colors, gases, galaxies, stars, and… nothing really discernible?

Hear me out. I love learning about outer space and the universe at large. Just like investigations inside the deepest, darkest reaches of the ocean, explorations into space are adventures into the unknown. It represents an evolution in human consciousness and puts us that much closer to being in touch with the universe’s other intelligent life.

This boundless conceit has at least partially fueled the hype behind franchises like Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, and other media properties with Star in the name.

I mean, NASA collabs remain some of the most ephemerally popular products in all of streetwear-dom for more reasons than just the cool logos (although, admittedly, NASA’s logos are the best-looking and least embarrassing of all the government organizations).

So why am I not blown away by the new imagery produced by NASA, ESA, and CSA’s James Webb Space Telescope? They took over the internet when first released and have been breathlessly covered by every media outlet known to man.

However, although the historic impact behind the shots definitely is important, I’m sorry to say that the images leave me underwhelmed. Like, they’re cool, but so what? Isn’t basically every photo of outer space pretty cool?

Since time immemorial, we’ve marveled at renderings of the night sky. Illustrations, photographs, films — space stuff is always in-demand.

So I get the hype behind the new images. But, besides being pretty pictures with lots of colors and sparkles, they don’t really mean much to me, as a layman.

One of the photos from the James Webb Telescope’s Near-Infrared Camera shows the “deepest and sharpest infrared image of the distant universe” ever produced; another presents crisp pictures of the “Southern Ring Nebula” 2,000 miles away; another image gets up close with the dust and gas surrounding the galaxies known as Stephan’s Quintet.

Which is to say, there are a lot of images with flashy lights and pretty colors but the end result is basically the same kinda stuff as what we regular folks get when we look at normal space photos. And that’s cool and all, but it still doesn’t entirely make sense why the images are exciting enough to spur international headlines.

Comments on Highsnobiety’s Instagram post called out the photos as “AI,” “Photoshop,” and the rest. Which, I mean, sure, there’s probably some editing going on here — a team of scientists selected these photos from a larger selection and I’d bet the photos were at least touched up before being published — but that’s not the point.

The point is, these are very pretty images of fairly vague subjects. Someone with a degree could say these were photos of anything and us cavemen down here would believe it, ‘cuz why not?

The James Webb Space Telescope is clearly capable of securing some beautiful images, no doubt. It’s just strange how much buzz that these attractive, but otherwise abstract, photos attracted.

Is it a conspiracy? Hell no. Just an odd sociological phenomenon, perhaps related to our greater existential concerns.

And that’s much more interesting to me than the flashy pictures.

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