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How the James Webb Telescope's cosmic pictures impacted the Internet


3 min read
The James Webb Telescope reveals emerging stellar nurseries and individual stars in the Carina Nebula that were previously obscured. Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI. Full image here.
“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” Carl Sagan

In the past few years, space technology and travel have been trending with increased  attention and endeavors (including private ones). In our 2021 Year in Review we showed how NASA and SpaceX flew higher, at least in terms of interest on the Internet.

This week, NASA in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), released the first images from the James Webb Telescope (JWST) which conducts infrared astronomy to “reveal the unseen universe”.

Webb's First Deep Field is the first operational image taken by the James Webb Space Telescope, depicting a galaxy cluster with a distance of 5.12 billion light-years from Earth. Revealed to the public on 11 July 2022. Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI. Full image here.

So, let’s dig into something we really like here at Cloudflare, checking how real life and human interest has an impact on the Internet. In terms of general Internet traffic in the US, Radar shows us that there was an increase both on July 11 and July 12, compared to the previous week (bear in mind that July 4, the previous Monday, was the Independence Day holiday in the US).

Next, we look at DNS request trends to get a sense of traffic to Internet properties (and using from this point on EST time in all the charts). Let’s start with the cornucopia of NASA, ESA and other websites (there are many, some dedicated just to the James Webb Telescope findings).

There are two clear spikes in the next chart. The first was around the time the first galaxy cluster infrared image was announced by Joe Biden, on Monday, July 11, 2022 (at 17:00), with traffic rising 13x higher than in the previous week. There was also a 5x spike at 01:00 EST that evening. The second spike was higher and longer and happened during Tuesday, July 12, 2022, when more images were revealed. Tuesday’s peak was at 10:00, with traffic being 19x higher than in the previous week — traffic was higher than 10x between 09:00 and 13:00.

The first image was presented by US president at around 17:00 on July 11. DNS traffic was 1.5x higher to White House-related websites than any time in the preceding month.

Conclusion: space, the final frontier

As we saw in 2021, space projects and announcements continue to have a clear impact on the Internet, in this case in our DNS request view of Internet traffic. So far, what the James Webb Telescope images are showing us is a glimpse of a never-before-seen picture of parts of the universe (there’s no lack of excitement in Cloudflare’s internal chat groups).

You can keep an eye on these and other trends using Cloudflare Radar and follow @CloudflareRadar on Twitter — recently we covered extensively Canada’s Internet outage.

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João Tomé|@emot

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