As a point of habit, I have my browser homepage set to NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day. Each time I start my day, and log on to my computer, the internet greets me with an image of science that is unbelievably awe-inspiring. In the past few years, with major strides being taken in digital photography and imaging software, scientific images of the universe have raised dramatically in quality of resolution and post-processing capabilities. More notably, in the past few weeks, NASA has been posting images of unrivaled beauty. Check them out, here are just a few:
Now, as a fan of Frank Frazetta, Chris Achiellios, Derek Riggs, D&D and Magic: The Gathering fantasy art, I have a pretty high tolerance for the absurdly fantastical and mystical imagery. But, the thing you gotta remember about these images is that they come from scientific instruments! No one is tokin’ any doobies to come up with these cosmic landscapes! These things come from a handful of Earth’s most powerful telescopes, like the Hubble Space Telescope. Our progress in telescopic photography and imaging technology have come about to great advances at the same time we have created our own Encyclopedia Galactica, known more commonly to us as Wikipedia (ooh – you can get all meta if you click that link). So, as profoundly difficult as it will first seem to comprehend any of this imagery, with a little bit of curiousity (which, you should have armfuls of now, after looking at these) you can take a peek into the Wikipedia entries for all the techno-babble, that NASA has so kindly provided for each image.
An interesting note, is that all of these images were taken in black and white – ! I believe it’s done for technical reasons that have to do with long exposure times (20 minutes to hours long), so the data retrieved is a more formal study, and not distorted from the saturated colors of light that are being soaked up by these lenses. The coloring is added in post-processing, by breaking down the various elements of the results, combined with our known knowledge of pyhsics, chemistry, etc. to provide accurate color imaging. The ultraviolet energy, dust particles, and starlight get assigned colors (like red, blue, green – RGB), which then become layers of mixed images, thereby creating an accurate, scientific representation of what’s really going on out there.
You can learn a little bit more about that here, by taking a 15-minute survey on the aesthetics of representing astronomy. It’s aim is to better understand how to communicate these images to casual hobbyists, fanatics, and new-comers all alike – so, don’t shy away, if you feel the survey is “not for you.”
and Lastly, I’d like to point out another example of the cultural relevance that NASA brings to the table, with this eerie sight to come, of the aligning of the planets, on this Halloween weekend.