Shades of Gray From the Hubble Space Telescope

The Hubble Space Telescope has 5 cameras on it but not one of them records the colors of visible light that we see in this video. All visible light images are in the grayscale.

  1.  (WFC3) – The Wide Field Camera 3 sees three different kinds of light: near-ultraviolet, visible and near-infrared.
  2. (COS) – The Cosmic Origins Spectrograph is a spectrograph that sees exclusively in ultraviolet light.
  3. (ACS)  – The Advanced Camera for Surveys detects visible light.
  4. (STIS) – The Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph is a spectrograph that sees ultraviolet, visible and near-infrared light.
  5. (NICMOS) – The Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer is Hubble’s heat sensor.

So one might ask how does NASA end up with color images of deep space objects like the Helix Nebula? The Hubble Space Telescope delivers grayscale images to the ground base.

The finished color images are the work of NASA photo imaging specialists adding color to the image. Colors are assigned to represent different gas layers and radiation in the nebula. The color enables us to visualize the gas and dust that is not visible to the human eye.

The Helix Nebula is a trillion-mile-long cloud of hot gases.” At its center is dying star which has ejected masses of dust and gas to form tentacle-like filaments stretching toward an outer rim composed of the same material. Our own sun may look like this in several billion years.

The Dread Pirate Dave

David is the Editor in Chief of Postcards From the Edge. I was born on a cold November morning on the showy plains of Colorado. Like my father, before me, I am an American Nomad.

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