There was a ton of excitement when the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) was launched into space last month. What made the excitement exponentially larger was when NASA made the first few photos received from JWST public. The pictures were gorgeous and stunning, and the world was captivated by the sheer beauty of our universe as shown by these photos.
These stunning photos, which are a feast for our eyes, were accompanied by something that made sure blind people enjoyed these photos as much as sighted people did – alt text! Now, the alt text attached to these images were not just 1-2 sentences giving a vague description of the images. These were descriptive, poetic, and scientifically accurate. It is clear that the team that wrote them (
STCI – Space Telescope Science Institute) put a lot of thought and care into them.
Take a look at the
first few photos from JWST below and their image descriptions. You can also access these descriptions on the JWST website under “Image Description” on the left menu (pdf). The images also have alt text that will be read out loud by your screen reader.
Extended Description This image shows many overlapping objects at various distances. They include foreground stars, galaxies in a galaxy cluster, and distorted background galaxies behind the galaxy cluster. The background of space is black. Thousands of small galaxies appear across the image. Their colors vary. Some are shades of orange, others are white. Most appear as fuzzy ovals, but a few have distinctive spiral arms. In front of the galaxies are several foreground stars. Most appear blue with diffraction spikes, forming eight-pointed star shapes. Some look as large as the galaxies that appear next to them. A very bright star is slightly off center. It has eight blue, long diffraction spikes. In the center of the image, between 4 o’clock and 6 o’clock in the bright star’s spikes, are several bright, white galaxies. These are members of the galaxy cluster. There are also many thin, long, orange arcs. They follow invisible concentric circles that curve around the center of the image. These are images of background galaxies that have been stretched and distorted by the foreground galaxy cluster. Alt-Text Thousands of small galaxies appear across this view. Their colors vary. Some are shades of orange, while others are white. Most appear as fuzzy ovals, but a few have distinct spiral arms. In front of the galaxies are several foreground stars. Most appear blue, and the bright stars have diffraction spikes, forming an eight-pointed star shape. There are also many thin, long, orange arcs that curve around the center of the image.
Description / Alt-Text Carina NGC 3324 (NIRCam Image) The image is divided horizontally by an undulating line between a cloudscape forming a nebula along the bottom portion and a comparatively clear upper portion. Speckled across both portions is a starfield, showing innumerable stars of many sizes. The smallest of these are small, distant, and faint points of light. The largest of these appear larger, closer, brighter, and more fully resolved with 8-point diffraction spikes. The upper portion of the image is blueish, and has wispy translucent cloud-like streaks rising from the nebula below. The orangish cloudy formation in the bottom half varies in density and ranges from translucent to opaque. The stars vary in color, the majority of which, have a blue or orange hue. The cloud-like structure of the nebula contains ridges, peaks, and valleys – an appearance very similar to a mountain range. Three long diffraction spikes from the top right edge of the image suggest the presence of a large star just out of view.
Extended Description Image of a group of five galaxies that appear close to each other in the sky: two in the middle, one toward the top, one to the upper left, and one toward the bottom. Four of the five appear to be touching. One is somewhat separated. In the image, the galaxies are large relative to the hundreds of much smaller (more distant) galaxies in the background. All five galaxies have bright white cores. Each has a slightly different size, shape, structure, and coloring. At the center of the image are two bright galaxy cores with orange wisps surrounded by a cloud-like aura of white. The cores are close to each other and there is no clear boundary between the galaxies. The top galaxy of the pair has two spiral arms and the other is more elliptical in shape. The galaxy toward the top of the image has a bright central core, surrounded by orange wisps and tendrils. The core is surrounded by a thin cloud-like aura of white that forms a diffuse spiral arm-like structures that trails off toward the upper left. Between the top and center galaxies is a large region of bright orange. The galaxy toward the bottom of the image sits alone, not appearing to touch any of the other four. It is nearly circular in shape and has a bright core surrounded by a cloud-like aura of white. This galaxy is almost completely white: No orange wisps or arms are apparent. The galaxy toward the upper left has a fuzzy oval shape, with more distinct points of light than are apparent in the other four galaxies. Within the oval is a bright core with orange wisps and a vague spiral structure. The core of this galaxy is not as bright or distinct as the cores of the other four galaxies. In the background of the image are numerous smaller, more distant galaxies of various colors, shapes, sizes, and brightness. Scattered across the image, in front of the galaxies are number of foreground stars with diffraction spikes: bright white points, each with eight bright lines radiating out from the center. The sizes of the stars and diffraction spikes vary. Some are superimposed on the large galaxies. The largest is to the upper right of the group of galaxies. Alt-Text Image of a group of five galaxies that appear close to each other in the sky: two in the middle, one toward the top, one to the upper left, and one toward the bottom. Four of the five appear to be touching. One is somewhat separated. In the image, the galaxies are large relative to the hundreds of much smaller (more distant) galaxies in the background. All five galaxies have bright white cores. Each has a slightly different size, shape, structure, and coloring. Scattered across the image, in front of the galaxies are number of foreground stars with diffraction spikes: bright white points, each with eight bright lines radiating out from the center.
Alt text: Colorful image of near-infrared light from a glowing cloud with a distorted ring-like shape, illuminated from within by a bright central star. The Southern Ring Nebula is a large, semi-transparent oval that is slightly angled from top left to bottom right. A bright white star appears at the center of this image. A large transparent teal oval surrounds the central star. Several red shells surround the teal oval, extending almost to the edges of the image. The shells become a deeper red with distance from the center. The bright central star has eight diffraction spikes. Behind the gaseous teal layers are deeper orange layers that are arranged like threads in a complex weaving. The red layers, which are wavy overall, look like they have very thin straight lines piercing through them, which are holes where light from a central star is traveling. The background of the image is black and speckled with tiny bright stars and distant galaxies.
Through these photos, NASA has taught us that alt text is and should not be an afterthought. There are many individuals who are passionate about space, and it only makes sense to provide the rich and detailed experience they deserve through various means that work for them.
Has seeing these detailed descriptions influenced how you will write alt texts in the future? Let us know in the comments below!
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