How beautiful space photos are made

The Hubble Space Telescope doesn't just produce glossy, full-color posters on its own. It takes a little work to get from raw images to the photos we gawk over on the Internet. This video takes you through the process of turning three different black and white images into one complete, beautiful photo of a spiral galaxy.

Video Link

More info on the official Hubble site

Via Sheril Kirschenbaum


  1. Are the colors that are applied just chosen for aesthetic value, or are they based on other evidence? 

    1. With the human eye much of this would be black, but so you can appreciate the different types of light that the Hubble sees, they have to be assigned colours. The ultraviolet light is moved down to bluish and the infra red is moved up to reddish, and in a sense these are their closest colours in the visible spectrum, but there is no ‘true’ way to represent these as colours, and you have to choose something. It is no doubt chosen to look good aesthetically, But like a HDR photo everything is actually ‘there’ – there is no trickery here!

  2. The colours chosen come from the wavelength of the filters used to capture each of the black and white images. Sometimes the colours are “true” colours, e.g. colouring a 480nm filter channel green, and other times the colours are interpretive, e.g. colouring a 750nm (infrared) filter channel red.

  3. That depends. If the picture was taken with detectors in the visible
    spectrum many times the colors will correspond to the actual
    wavelengths. However no telescope takes pictures of the full visible spectrum, only certain narrow wavebands. So it’s an approximation. Furthermore these wavelengths are chosen for their scientific value, say to detect hydrogen, or oxygen molecules in certain states or to detect wavelengths that pass through space dust. There are images that have been constructed with the input of many telescopes, some observing in x-ray, some in the visible, some in infrared and some in radio wavelengths. In all these cases colors are _assigned_ to those wavelengths, sometimes for aesthetics sometimes to make a certain feature stand out.

    1. What kind of unrealistic standards of beauty will young spheroid galaxies hold themselves to when they’re only exposed to these computer-composites? Won’t somebody think of the children?

    1. i didn’t watch the video but i do a lot of astrophotography… there are a lot of tools to automatically do registration. most dedicated astrophoto software can do it. the problem is this: in the beginning there was only photoshop. lots of people learned to use photoshop for this niche application, and so many people still do today, including the hubble heritage team. despite there being many astro plugins for PS, it’s still just not the right tool for the job. but the photoshop inertia persists.

      by the way, anyone can download the raw hubble data @ level 4 products are the easiest to work with. also see

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