Launch Pad #2: Imaging
July 25, 2010
This is a really blurry picture because I was taking it without a flash. But I thought it would be cool to see what this stuff looks like in process. What we’re looking at: this is an image of the Ring Nebula taken at the Red Buttes Observatory, which houses the University of Wyoming’s 24″ telescope. Remember I said there were two computers? This is the one collecting data from the telescope. I have to confess, it’s a little disappointing not actually looking through an eyepiece on the big huge telescope to very distant astronomical objects. But it turns out in a lot of cases our eyes just aren’t good enough to see them. So while it’s easy to think this is just another picture of a well-known astronomical object, I had to remember that this particular picture was taken just a few minutes previously. So while I’ve seen lots of prettier pictures of the Ring Nebula, I will never see one cooler than this one.
The right-hand image is the raw data, the left-hand image was made with color filters to bring out different features of the nebula — different kinds of light have varying wavelengths, which can provide lots of information and help astronomers determine how hot a star or other object is, how far away it is, what kind of object it is, and so on. Also, it turns out astronomers really do play around with the colors of various images in arbitrary fashions to make really pretty pictures for press releases and the like. Like this:
On Saturday we got a quick tutorial in the software astronomers use to manipulate images and various filters on astronomical objects. Here’s the awesome picture I made of galaxy M51. Just to reiterate, the colors don’t actually mean anything here because I was kinda messing around. But I made a picture!
Here’s the telescope used to view the above image of the Ring Nebula:
The WIRO telescope looks a little like this, only bigger. Much much bigger.