Mutable Matter



Request Post: Images from the Universe ‘up and below’


Source: NASA

During the first workshop, there was a discussion whether you can compare the process of imaging the nanoscale (Nobelprize.org now has a cool STM simulator!) with imaging the far reaches of space. Isn’t it the case that some Hubble images are ‘coloured in data’ and not ‘actual representations’ of what goes on in space? They always seem so photoshopped! Just look at this:


Source: NASA

I had a look at some Hubble-related websites and found that the telescope actually carries several different types of ‘cameras’ and detection devices. Makes sense, I thought. The Hubblesite gives you a quick description how the Hubble captures different images from space. The NASA site also gives you a fairly good description. Sounds like they do take ‘normal’ photographs, just with bigger and better equipment. Or do they?


Source: NASA

I then came across the Hubble Heritage website. The description of how the images are put together sounds almost like a team effort that involves personal choices of, for instance, colour. First of all, they also have a black and white gallery. Do they colour these in like scientists colour in STM images? On this page and this page it almost sounds like it. Mind you, the black and white data is impressive enough!
In comparison, the IBM lab website explains how they arrive at those ghastly coloured atom imagery (‘colour mapping’ they call it).
This one is not too bad, but makes me crave jellybabies…


Source: IBM

Interesting for me is that the colour use seems to serve a dual purpose in both cases: to help researchers identify certain boundaries – and to make the research visually more appealing to the public. In the case of the Hubble telescope, several websites tell the story that because the telescope was paid with ‘taxpayer’s money’ and was subject to so much bad luck at the beginning, it initially suffered from a lack of public support. However, once the space telescope started sending those amazing colourful images back to Earth, the public was not only pacified, but wanted more! I guess that the IBM gallery serves a similar purpose to make people curious about the nanoscale.

According to the NASA website, there will be another Servicing Mission (number 4) to the Hubble telescope on the 8 October which is supposed to bring new equipment on board. Naturally, already curious what that does… ;)

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