The How And Why Of All That Beautiful Space Photography

The How And Why Of All That Beautiful Space Photography

Space is a gorgeous place. Considering we’ve only seen an infinitesimal amount of it, it makes you wonder what other lovelies it has in store for our eyes — and humanity as a whole. But how do we go about capturing all these amazing images of galaxies, nebulae and other phenomenon in the first place?

That’s the topic of PBS’s most recent instalment in its Off Book series. Entitled “The Beauty of Space Photography”, the six-and-a-half minute clip chats to Emily Rice of the American Museum of Natural History, Zolt Levay of the Space Telescope Science Institute and New York University’s David Hogg on all things interstellar.

Levay covers the challenges of transforming the data captured by our space-scouring telescopes into images that represent both the glamour and science of the universe:

So the colours are real. They may not be the exact colours we see with our eyes, but the colours are true and real. It’s both a scientific and a technical process and a creative process. We try to make the pictures as aesthetically pleasing as possible — that’s our goal — but on the other hand we also want to be honest to the data.

But why capture the data in the first place? One (well, most) would argue that sating out curiosity and furthering the related branches of science are benefit enough. Hogg, however, is keen on Earth-like planets and as an extension of that, the possibility of extraterrestrial life:

Right now, it is impossible to directly image an exoplanet [a planet outside the Solar System] that is similar to the Earth. They’re all found through indirect means. However, I do think it is a really important underlying motivation for our thinking that we might one day understand life in the universe and maybe even contact life elsewhere in the universe. Now, that said, life elsewhere in the universe won’t necessarily be interested in us in anyway … it’s also possible life will be hostile to us.”

Hostile? Guess we better start pouring more effort into deflector shield research. That’s a thing, right?*

*Gosh, I hope so.