I got a slew of emails from awesome friends (thanks to Katedogg, Amanda T., and Samuel Z.) about the Hubble Space Telescope’s anniversary and all the beautiful pictures presented by various news sites. Here’s a gallery of some of them — go ahead, feel small and insignificant (I dare you), and know that there is so much mystery and beauty in this amazing Universe, just waiting to be discovered.
More pictures and explanations can be found here:
(1) National Geographic Hubble gallery: arguably the most beautiful and awe-inspiring. I took most of the pictures in the gallery above off the Nat Geo site.
(2) ars technica blog post “Hubble turns 20: a retrospective in pictures”: This post has pretty good images, and great explanations.
(3) Wired article “Wow! Celebrate Hubbles 20th with Best Space Image Ever”: Great short article about one of Hubble’s new beautiful images (see the picture of the star forming region in the Carina Nebula, above), and lots of good links to things.
P.S. Astronomy images aren’t quite what they seem. Those beautiful colors you see are not in the original photograph, but added in image processing. In fact, light is collected in each pixel like rain in a bucket (so all you get is brightness = the amount of photons collected in each pixel), then a spectrum of the particular astronomical object is taken, and the image of that object is colored (generally) based on the brightness of the object and its spectrum. The spectrum is what tells us all the different wavelengths of light in the image, which can then tell us what elements the astronomical object is made up of, so the image can then be colored based on the elements present (e.g. blue for oxygen, perhaps red for nitrogen, etc.). So the original image is just a black and white, more of less, which is colored to create the incredible images you see in the gallery above.
For more information on this process, go to the site on how the HST images are colored. This is the best site I found while googling through the interwebs. You can look at some black and white originals and get some information on how color is used as a tool (they call the coloring of astronomy images “equal parts art and science” which I think is very true).
Better late than never: Hubble slideshow from the BBC and Cambridge. (Props to Katedogg)