The Hubble’s handlers today celebrate their telescope’s 20th year by releasing another (yes, another) false color image of a spectacular star-forming region wreathed with roiling molecular clouds and streaked with the scatterings from beams of channeled starlight. That’s it, or click on the hi def version at NASA’s website. It appears that the telescope’s image team spent considerable time massaging the data to blend shots at various wavelengths just so, take out artifacts and other hash, and generally spiff it up.
Several outlets promptly put the pic, along with galleries of other Hubble eye candy, on their sites. Images like this are simultaneously dreadfully misleading, worthwhile, and useful. The colors are nothing like what your eye would see – which is, one ventures, that it would see a few stars and perhaps diffuse, glowing blobs. The features are so juiced up in contrast it looks as though these dense molecular clouds are, you know, dense. They are – I just checked this – more rarefied than the best vacuums ever pumped on Earth. You could fit a condor with a space helmet and fling it through there at 20,000 mph with its wings stuck out flat into the “wind” and it wouldn’t feel a thing. The data are real, but it’s not a picture in the way that a picture of a butterfly is. But awful pretty.
- Wired News – Betsy Mason: Wow! Celebrate Hubble’s 20th with best space image ever ; Dunno if it’s the best but it’s pretty good.
- Science News – Ron Cowen : Hubble’s new instant classic ; Cowen grilled the Hubble image massagers to find out exactly how the photo was amped and pasted up from separate pictures taken at half a dozen narrow bands in the visible and infrared. He calls these “black and white” pictures, but that doesn’t seem quite right – they are one-color images. “Black and white” implies a broad spectrum image rendered in gray scale. But a salute overall to getting the info and explanatory graphic.
- Telegraph – Andrew Hough: Hubble Telescope: Nasa releases dramatic space image to mark 20th birthday ; He picks up some info (with attribution) from Science News. Hough calls the first Hubble images “grainy” due to the famously out-of-focus main mirror, later corrected with astronaut-installed spectacles. Right sense, but wrong literally. They weren’t grainy – they came off a finely (if wrongly, for the ‘scope’s focal length) figured mirror with a hi-definition detector. But they were blurry.
- Scientific American/Skymania – Paul Sutherland: Hubble’s 20th Anniversary Treat ;
- Times (UK) Hannah Devlin : Hubble celebrates 20 years with dramatic image of Carina Nebula ;
Plus two 20th Hubble Anniversary Stories without the new image:
- Space.com – Charles Q. Choi: Hubble Space Scope: 20 Years of Cosmic Awe ;
- BBC – Martin Rees : Hubble’s role in search for aliens ; Rees is no scrivener, but the well known astronomer royal and is Sir Martin to boot.
Grist for the Mill: NASA Press Release ;
– Charlie Petit