THE ART PROCESS: photographing outer space
The universe is constantly being created—and destroyed. It hides nothing. You’ve seen these colorful, wondrous images of galaxies, nebulae and supernovas before but have you ever wondered how these images are collected? Here’s some truth about the process with the most-ess.
First of all, a little history to put things in perspective. The first full photograph of planet Earth wasn’t captured until 1972, when the Apollo 17 crew left Earth en-route to the moon on December 7th. Since the moon was behind them, they had a perfectly lit view of, well, us! And this photograph was taken so that we can marvel at, well, ourselves!
The leading photograph shown above is of Spiral Galaxy NGC 3982. To achieve this image as we see it, there’s first over 1400 screen captures taken, one every 10 seconds, from the Hubble telescope over the course of 3 weeks. This amounts to 10 hours of processing, beginning with black and white images from 3 Hubble cameras.
“Creating color images out of the original black-and-white exposures is equal parts art and science”
Hubble doesn’t use film, it’s cameras record light from the universe with special electronic detectors. Finished color images, as we see them, are actually combinations of two or more black and white exposures to which color has been added during images processing. So, not to shatter any or all illusion, but these colorful and dazzling images are not exactly what we would see in outer space with our own eyes. Hubble can detect all the visible wavelengths of light plus many more that are invisible to human eyes, such as ultraviolet and infrared light.
The images, in order, are Spiral Galaxy NGC 3982 (I personally would have called it something cooler), The Crab Nebula, The Eskimo Nebula, The Helix Nebula, an old star giving up the ghost, The Eagle Nebula, and the last two are the great Carina Nebula.
Thanks for the eye vacation, NASA.
- Jess Petrella