Hubble Telescope images and color

Pages from NASA’s Hubble telescope website demonstrate how they assign colors within their amazing images. They use three approaches: natural color (what human eyes can see); representative color (using color to code portions of the image); and enhanced color.

Of course the “images” are captured using filters that detect wavelengths invisible to the human eye so they have to be assigned a color within the spectrum that is visible to us. Surprisingly, they stitch together and colorize the images using photoshop!

This is striking to me for a few reasons:

1) the recognition that these images are not about “truthful representation”–for in fact there can be no “truthful” version that can be “seen”. The telescope detects and records phenomena that we cannot perceive.

2) the assignation of color–the recognition that color is always already a signifier, not a fact. It can be about verisimilitude (but to whom or what? a cat? a color-blind person? a fully sighted person?) but it can also be used to interrogate an image, to explore, and not merely to represent.

3) interesting demonstration about the neutrality of tools–same tools for pornographers as for NASA scientists.

4) nice metaphor for interpretation–making visible what is invisible, teasing out by manipulating and reworking…


Comments are closed.