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Astrophotography: The Beautiful Images from the Hubble Space Telescope

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Probably since the beginning of time, we have looked at the night sky and wondered, “what’s up there?”

Star-Birth Clouds M16: Stellar “eggs” emerge from a molecular cloud. (Photo Credit: NASA, ESA, STScl, J. Hester and P. Scowen, Arizona State University)

Star-Birth Clouds M16: Stellar “eggs” emerge from a molecular cloud. (Photo Credit: NASA, ESA, STScl, J. Hester and P. Scowen, Arizona State University)

Space and its mysteries have been the topic of books, movies, comic books, poems and songs. But thanks to technology in imaging, we are able to see what composes the our universe.

The Hubble Space Telescope has recorded images that not only provide scientists with valuable information about the universe, but also are artistic masterpieces. The HST is a space-based telescope that was launched in 1990 by the U.S. Space Agency. It is located 380 miles above the Earth. In its first 15 years, it has recorded 700,000 images. More than 4,000 peer-reviewed papers based on Hubble data have been published.

The HST moves around Earth at about 5 miles per second. To compare, if a car could travel that fast, a road trip from LA to New York City would take about 10 minutes. It completes its orbit of the Earth in 97 minutes and travels more than 150 million miles every year.

The images captured by Hubble have been featured in multiple magazines and websites. While many enjoy the images, some people wonder about the color of the photos taken by the HST. An explanation is given that these are false colors used to show differences and separate the various elements of the subject.

From the Website, “Taking color pictures with the Hubble Space Telescope is much more complex than taking color pictures with a traditional camera. For one thing, Hubble doesn’t use color film — in fact, it doesn’t use film at all. Rather, its cameras record light from the universe with special electronic detectors. These detectors produce images of the cosmos not in color, but in shades of black and white. Finished color images are actually combinations of two or more black-and-white exposures to which color has been added during image processing. The colors in Hubble images, which are assigned for various reasons, aren’t always what we’d see if we were able to visit the imaged objects in a spacecraft. We often use color as a tool, whether it is to enhance an object’s detail or to visualize what ordinarily could never be seen by the human eye.”

Furthermore, filters are used to recreate colors as explained, “Many full-color Hubble images are combinations of three separate exposures — one each taken in red, green, and blue light. When mixed together, these three colors of light can simulate almost any color of light that is visible to human eyes. That’s how televisions, computer monitors, and video cameras recreate colors.”

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Written by jeremyparce

April 27, 2009 at 7:54 am

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