This stunning photo was taken not by the Hubble space telescope, but by some guy (Rogelio Andreo) out in the desert. Sure, he needed several thousand dollars in digital camera equipment to do it, but still – that’s well within the reach of many hobbyists. Are we seeing a surge in amateur earthbound astronomy photography?
Read this Wired article to find out all about Andreo’s process. If you happened to read my earlier post about data and scientific visualization (“You want raw data? You can’t handle raw data”) you know that I think filtering and processing data is an inevitable part of both art and science. Of course, different people have different opinions on the appropriate levels of filtration and processing. I liked what the Wired article had to say about it:
So, we live in a golden age for space photos, but looking at the technicolor images of what appears to the naked eye to be a fairly bland sky, we find ourselves asking: Does it really look like that?
As we find in this behind-the-scenes look at the making of a mind-blowing space photo, the answer is yes — but just not to your eyes, which are pretty poor sensors, compared with purpose-built astrophotographic equipment.
But that doesn’t mean the photos aren’t “real.” Most astrophotographers have an ethic: They won’t add color or lasso just a part of an image for editing. They can only bring things out of the data, not add them. The photos are often processed in Photoshop, but what they do is the opposite of falsifying the visual record. Astrophotographers are using digital-editing tools to find the truth in the noisy data that are the heavens. (source)
Truth? Maybe. Andreo’s process seems to come down more on the artistic side than the scientific side – he makes his processing choices based on aesthetics, not fidelity to the data or accuracy in conveying the data to a viewer. Still, it’s a beautiful photo.