Book review: Coloring the Universe is full of majestic and humbling images of space

From nebulas to supernovas, the wonders of the universe are laid out for us in a fascinating, beautiful and educational book

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 February, 2016, 4:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 February, 2016, 4:01am

Coloring the Universe

by Travis A. Rector, Kimberly Arcand and Megan Watzke

University of Alaska Press

Few things in life are more vibrant, more beautiful and more majestic than images of space. Thankfully, Coloring the Universe: An Insider’s Look at Making Spectacular Images of Space by Travis A. Rector, Kimberly Arcand and Megan Watzke presents everything from nebulas, supernovas, distant galaxies and beyond in one jaw-dropping book.

“Vision is the richest of the senses, and we are used to interpreting the endless colours and varied textures of the world around us through our eyes,” writes Dr David Malin, an astronomer who helped develop several of the techniques used to capture images of space in the 1970s and ’80s, in the book’s foreword.

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“But even when viewed through the largest telescopes, most of the amazing star-forming nebulae and nearby galaxies … seem as faint grey smudges to the eye.”

Collecting 250 pages of imagery captured by observatories, the Hubble Space Telescope and more, Coloring the Universe goes beyond mere photo book to detail the how and why of capturing images of space in an accessible, easy-to-read manner.

One surprising aspect of Coloring the Universe is the revelation that astronomers use photo editing software to create the images.

The process is complicated, but in its most basic form, objects are captured multiple times through a variety of filters designed to read different levels of electromagnetic radiation (think X-ray, infrared, ultraviolet and all other wavelengths besides what the human eye can see). The data from these captures are converted into greyscale images.

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From there, the images are pulled into editing software and assigned a colour by astronomers based on how much light was emitted by the object (lowest-energy light is red, highest energy is blue). Finally, the colourised layers are stacked together to create the final image.

Sound complicated? Maybe. Endlessly fascinating? Absolutely.

Tribune News Service