Colors From Outer Space

Colors From Outer Space

The Hubble Space Telescope was dropped off in space in April 1990. Since then it has been sending back images that reach beyond our imaginations capturing stars, nebulae and galaxies that would have never been seen without it. The Hubble Telescope also brings us color inspiration from an unexpected place revealing colors that lie light years away.

Capturing color in outer space with the Hubble Telescope is not as simple as with a normal camera using color film. The Hubble's camera records light from the universe using "electronic detectors" which capture two or more separate black and white photos. The resulting colors are not always what the human eye would see in space, but nonetheless, the images created by Hubble and the NASA team are imaginative and stunning.

Read more about the colors captured in space at the bottom of this post.


Image Credit: NASA

Trifids Dust pillars are like interstellar mountains. They survive because they are more dense than their surroundings; however, they are being slowly eroded by a hostile environment. Visible in the image above is the end of a huge gas and dust pillar in the Trifid Nebula, punctuated by a smaller pillar pointing up and an unusual jet pointing to the left. The pink dots are newly formed low-mass stars.

Stingray Nebula

Image Credit: NASA

Stingray Nebula The Hubble Space Telescope captured this image of the Stingray Nebula, the youngest known planetary nebula. In this image, the bright central star is in the middle of the green ring of gas. Its companion star is diagonally above it at 10 o'clock. The red curved lines represent bright gas that is heated by a "shock" caused when the central star's wind hits the walls of the bubbles. The nebula is as large as 130 solar systems, but, at its distance of 18,000 light-years, it appears only as big as a dime viewed a mile away. The colors shown are actual colors emitted by nitrogen (red), oxygen (green) and hydrogen (blue).

Water's Early Journey

Image Credit: NASA

Water Early Journey NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope observed a fledgling solar system, like the one depicted in this artist's concept, and discovered deep within it enough water vapor to fill the oceans on Earth five times. This water vapor starts out in the form of ice in a cloudy cocoon (not pictured) that surrounds the embryonic star, called NGC 1333-IRAS 4B (buried in center of image). Material from the cocoon, including ice, falls toward the center of the cloud. The ice then smacks down onto a dusty pre-planetary disk circling the stellar embryo (doughnut-shaped cloud) and vaporizes. Eventually, this water might make its way into developing planets.

Light and Shadow in the Carina Nebula

Image Credit: NASA

Carina Nebula Previously unseen details of a mysterious, complex structure within the Carina Nebula (NGC 3372) are revealed by this image obtained by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. The picture is a montage assembled from four different April 1999 telescope pointings with Hubble's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, which used six different color filters.

This region, about 8,000 light-years from Earth, is located adjacent to the famous explosive variable star Eta Carinae, which lies just outside the field of view toward the upper right. The high resolution of the Hubble images reveals the relative three- dimensional locations of many of these features, as well as showing numerous small dark globules that may be in the process of collapsing to form new stars. Two striking large, sharp-edged dust clouds are located near the bottom center and upper left edges of the image. The former is immersed within the ring and the latter is just outside the ring. The pronounced pillars and knobs of the upper left cloud appear to point toward a luminous, massive star located just outside the field further toward the upper left, which may be responsible for illuminating and sculpting them by means of its high-energy radiation and stellar wind of high-velocity ejected material.

These large dark clouds may eventually evaporate, or if there are sufficiently dense condensations within them, give birth to small star clusters. The Carina Nebula, with an overall diameter of more than 200 light- years, is one of the outstanding features of the Southern Hemisphere portion of the Milky Way. The diameter of the Keyhole ring structure shown here is about 7 light-years.

Star V838 Monocerotis

Image Credit: NASA

star V838 Monoceroti This Hubble Space Telescope image of the star V838 Monocerotis reveals dramatic changes in the illumination of surrounding dusty cloud structures. The effect, called a light echo, unveiled never-before-seen dust patterns when the star suddenly brightened for several weeks in early 2002.

A light echo is light from a stellar explosion echoing off dust surrounding the star that produces enough energy in a brief flash to illuminate surrounding dust. The star presumably ejected the illuminated dust shells in previous outbursts. Light from the latest outburst travels to the dust and then is reflected to Earth.

The phenomena is similar to that of a nova. A typical nova is a normal star that dumps hydrogen onto a compact white-dwarf companion star. The hydrogen piles up until it spontaneously explodes by nuclear fusion -- like a titanic hydrogen bomb -- exposing a searing stellar core with a temperature of hundreds of thousands of degrees Fahrenheit.

By contrast, V838 Monocerotis did not expel its outer layers. Instead, it grew enormously in size. Its surface temperature dropped to temperatures that were not much hotter than a light bulb. This behavior of ballooning to an immense size, but not losing its outer layers, is very unusual and completely unlike an ordinary nova explosion.

The outburst may represent a transitory stage in a star's evolution that is rarely seen. The star has some similarities to highly unstable aging stars called eruptive variables, which suddenly and unpredictably increase in brightness.

V838 Monocerotis is located about 20,000 light-years away from Earth in the direction of the constellation Monoceros, placing the star at the outer edge of our Milky Way galaxy.

Cats Eye Nebula

Image Credit: NASA

cat's eye The full beauty of the Cat's Eye Nebula (NGC 6543) is revealed in this new, detailed view from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. The image from Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) shows a bull's eye pattern of eleven or even more concentric rings, or shells, around the Cat's Eye. Each 'ring' is actually the edge of a spherical bubble seen projected onto the sky -- that's why it appears bright along its outer edge.

Observations suggest the star ejected its mass in a series of pulses at 1,500-year intervals. These convulsions created dust shells, each of which contain as much mass as all of the planets in our solar system combined (still only one percent of the Sun's mass). These concentric shells make a layered, onion-skin structure around the dying star. The view from Hubble is like seeing an onion cut in half, where each skin layer is discernible.

The bull's-eye patterns seen around planetary nebulae come as a surprise to astronomers because they had no expectation that episodes of mass loss at the end of stellar lives would repeat every 1,500 years. Several explanations have been proposed, including cycles of magnetic activity somewhat similar to our own Sun's sunspot cycle, the action of companion stars orbiting around the dying star, and stellar pulsations. Another school of thought is that the material is ejected smoothly from the star, and the rings are created later on due to formation of waves in the outflowing material.

Into the Heart of the Crab Nebula

Image Credit: NASA

Crab Nebula In the year 1054 A.D., Chinese astronomers were startled by the appearance of a new star that was so bright that it was visible in broad daylight for several weeks. Located about 6,500 light-years from Earth, the Crab Nebula is the remnant of a star that began its life with about 10 times the mass of our sun. Its life ended on July 4, 1054 when it exploded as a supernova.

Resembling an abstract painting by Jackson Pollock, the image shows ragged shards of gas that are expanding away from the explosion site at over 3 million miles per hour. The core of the star has survived the explosion as a pulsar, a neutron star that spins on its axis 30 times a second. It heats its surroundings, creating the ghostly diffuse bluish-green glowing gas cloud in its vicinity. The colorful network of filaments is the material from the outer layers of the star that was expelled during the explosion. The various colors in the picture arise from different chemical elements in the expanding gas, including hydrogen (orange), nitrogen (red), sulfur (pink), and oxygen (green). The shades of color represent variations in the temperature and density of the gas, as well as changes in the elemental composition.

An expanding Bubble in Space

Image Credit: NASA

An Expanding Bubble A star 40 times more massive than our sun is blowing a giant bubble of material into space. In this colorful picture, the Hubble Telescope captured a glimpse of the expanding bubble, dubbed the Bubble Nebula (NGC 7635). The beefy star [lower center] is embedded in the bright blue bubble. The stellar powerhouse is so hot that it is quickly shedding material into space. The dense gas surrounding the star is shaping the castoff material into a bubble. The bubble's surface is not smooth like a soap bubble's. Its rippled appearance is due to encounters with gases of different thickness. The nebula is 6 light-years wide and is expanding at 4 million miles per hour (7 million kilometers per hour). The nebula is 7,100 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cassiopeia.

Dust and the Helix Nebula

Image Credit: NASA

Helix Nebula Dust makes this cosmic eye look red. This eerie Spitzer Space Telescope image shows infrared radiation from the well-studied Helix Nebula (NGC 7293), which is a mere 700 light-years away in the constellation Aquarius. The two light-year diameter shroud of dust and gas around a central white dwarf has long been considered an excellent example of a planetary nebula, representing the final stages in the evolution of a sun-like star.

Spitzer data show the nebula's central star is itself immersed in a surprisingly bright infrared glow. Models suggest the glow is produced by a dust debris disk. Even though the nebular material was ejected from the star many thousands of years ago, the close-in dust could be generated by collisions in a reservoir of objects analogous to our own solar system's Kuiper Belt or cometary Oort cloud. Formed in the distant planetary system, the comet-like bodies have otherwise survived even the dramatic late stages of the star's evolution.

Echoes from the Edge

Image Credit: NASA

Echoes from the Edge Variable star V838 Monocerotis lies near the edge of our Milky Way Galaxy, about 20,000 light-years from our sun. Still, ever since a sudden outburst was detected in January 2002, this enigmatic star has taken the center of an astronomical stage. As astronomers watch, light from the outburst echoes across pre-existing dust shells around V838 Mon, progressively illuminating ever more distant regions.

This stunning image of swirls of dust surrounding the star was recorded by the Hubble Space Telescope in September 2006. The picture spans about 14 light-years. Astronomers expect the expanding echoes to continue to light up the dusty environs of V838 Mon for at least the rest of the current decade. Researchers have now found that V838 Mon is likely a young binary star, but the cause of its extraordinary outburst remains a mystery.

Hyperion's Kaleidoscope of Color

Image Credit: NASA

HyperionsKaleidoscop This Cassini image is a color map of the composition of a portion of Saturn's moon Hyperion. In this map, blue shows the maximum exposure of frozen water, red denotes carbon dioxide ice ("dry ice"), magenta indicates regions of water plus carbon dioxide, yellow is a mix of carbon dioxide and an unidentified material. The map was made with data from the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer aboard the Cassini spacecraft during its flyby of Hyperion in September 2005.

Stellar Fireworks

Image Credit: NASA

Stellar Fireworks Resembling an aerial fireworks explosion, this dramatic image of the energetic star WR124, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, reveals that it is surrounded by hot clumps of gas being ejected into space at speeds of over 100,000 miles per hour.

Also remarkable are vast arcs of glowing gas around the star, which are resolved into filamentary, chaotic substructures, yet with no overall global shell structure. Though the existence of clumps in the winds of hot stars has been deduced through spectroscopic observations of their inner winds, Hubble resolves them directly in the nebula M1-67 around WR124 as 100 billion-mile wide glowing gas blobs. Each blob is about 30 times the mass of the Earth.

The massive, hot central star is known as a Wolf-Rayet star. This extremely rare and short-lived class of super-hot star is going through a violent, transitional phase characterized by the fierce ejection of mass. The blobs may result from the furious stellar wind that is unstable as it flows into space. As the blobs cool, they eventually will dissipate into space and so don't pose any threat to neighboring stars.

The star is 15,000 light-years away, located in the constellation Sagittarius. The picture was taken with Hubble's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 in March 1997. The image is false-colored to reveal details in the nebula's structure.

Blue Expanse

Image Credit: NASA

Blue Expanse The Cassini spacecraft surveys Saturn's outstretched ring system in the infrared from a vantage point high above the planet's northern latitudes. Nearly the full expanse of the main rings is visible here -- from the C ring to the outer edge of the A ring (in the upper left corner).

Ring shadows are visible on the planet at lower left, and two large storms swirl near center.

This view looks toward the unilluminated side of the rings from about 52 degrees above the ringplane.

The image was taken with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera using a combination of spectral filters sensitive to wavelengths of infrared light centered at 752 (red channel), 890 (blue channel) and 728 (green channel) nanometers. The view was acquired on April 5, 2007 at a distance of approximately 1.4 million kilometers (900,000 miles) from Saturn. Image scale is 81 kilometers (51 miles) per pixel.

The Mineral Moon

Image Credit: NASA

The Mineral Moon Even if the moon really were made of green cheese it probably wouldn't look this bizarre. Still, this mosaic of 53 images was recorded by the Jupiter-bound Galileo spacecraft as it passed near our own large natural satellite in 1992. The pictures were recorded through three spectral filters and combined in an exaggerated false-color scheme to explore the composition of the lunar surface as changes in mineral content produce subtle color differences in reflected light.

Every Rose Has a Thorn

Image Credit: NASA

Rosette Nebula This infrared image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Rosette Nebula, a pretty star-forming region more than 5,000 light-years away in the constellation Monoceros. In optical light, the nebula looks like a rosebud, or the "rosette" adornments that date back to antiquity.

Lurking inside this delicate cosmic rosebud are so-called planetary "danger zones," surround super hot stars, called O-stars (blue stars inside spheres), which give off intense winds and radiation. Young, cooler stars that happen to reside within one of these zones are in danger of having their dusty planet-forming materials stripped away.

While scientists have known about O-star danger zones, their parameters were among science's mysteries. Astronomers used Spitzer's infrared vision to survey the extent of the five danger zones shown here. The results showed that young stars lying beyond 1.6 light-years, or 10 trillion miles, of any O-stars are safe, while those within this zone are likely to have their potential planets blasted into space.

Radiation and winds from the super hot stars have collectively blown layers of dust (green) and gas away, revealing the cavity of cooler dust (red). The largest two blue stars in this picture are in the foreground, and not in the nebula itself.

Color Images and the Hubble Space Telescope

Taking color pictures with the Hubble Space Telescope is much more complex than taking color pictures with a traditional camera. For one thing, Hubble doesn't use color film — in fact, it doesn't use film at all. Rather, its cameras record light from the universe with special electronic detectors. These detectors produce images of the cosmos not in color, but in shades of black and white.

Finished color images are actually combinations of two or more black-and-white exposures to which color has been added during image processing.

The colors in Hubble images, which are assigned for various reasons, aren't always what we'd see if we were able to visit the imaged objects in a spacecraft. We often use color as a tool, whether it is to enhance an object's detail or to visualize what ordinarily could never be seen by the human eye.

Color in Hubble images is used to highlight interesting features of the celestial object being studied. It is added to the separate black-and-white exposures that are combined to make the final image.

Creating color images out of the original black-and-white exposures is equal parts art and science.

We use color:
• To depict how an object might look to us if our eyes were as powerful as Hubble
• To visualize features of an object that would ordinarily be invisible to the human eye
• To bring out an object's subtle details.

Light from astronomical objects comes in a wide range of colors, each corresponding to a particular kind of electromagnetic wave. Hubble can detect all the visible wavelengths of light plus many more that are invisible to human eyes, such as ultraviolet and infrared light.

Astronomical objects often look different in these different wavelengths of light. To record what an object looks like at a certain wavelength, Hubble uses special filters that allow only a certain range of light wavelengths through. Once the unwanted light has been filtered out, the remaining light is recorded.

Hubble's many filters allow it to record images in a variety of wavelengths of light. Since the cameras can detect light outside the visible light spectrum, the use of filters allows scientists to study "invisible" features of objects — those only visible in ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths.

In the example to the left, galaxy NGC 1512 is represented in several different wavelengths. Hubble isolates these specific wavelengths using special filters. Choosing a particular filter reveals an image of the galaxy taken through that filter — that is, in a specific wavelength range. The finished image at the far left is actually a combination of all the filtered images.

Many full-color Hubble images are combinations of three separate exposures — one each taken in red, green, and blue light. When mixed together, these three colors of light can simulate almost any color of light that is visible to human eyes. That’s how televisions, computer monitors, and video cameras recreate colors.

Images and text from NASA

Showing 1 - 8 of 8 Comments
I subscribe to NASA's photo of the day & I've got a whole collection of nebula-inspired palettes.
hmm not really the colors of space so much as the colors of nasa's filters ... still classic pis though
er pics ;)
I dont know mekineko. That sounds like a good title for a palette...
Manekineko. Manekineko. Where's the edit button on this thing?
i did a series of hubble-inspired work, but i'll have to look for it. this is an interplanetary work co-created by me and lunalein:

oops. it doesn't fit here as nicely as on my profile...

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.