We’ve all seen the amazing images from the Hubble Space Telescope. The details in the colors and swirling patterns are not just beautiful – they also tell a story about what is happening there. Is that cloud of gas and dust a nursery for newborn stars? Are these massive bubbles of gas that have exploded from a supernova? And perhaps most importantly, who creates these images, and how?
As a member of Smithsonian Affiliations, the Miami Science Museum was recently able to answer that last question … in our case, it’s students! As a recipient of a grant from the Smithsonian’s Youth Capture the Colorful Cosmos program, the Museum was able to give students participating in our Upward Bound program the opportunity to remotely operate the Harvard-Smithsonian MicroObservatory, a system of robotic telescopes in Arizona, via the Observing with NASA portal. Students chose the objects they wanted to observe, including the exposure time and the filter through which the telescope would take the image. The next day, they received emails from the telescope with their images. Most of the time, the images appeared dark, as if there wasn’t much there. But students learned how to use professional-grade software to adjust brightness scales, reduce the background “noise” of the image, and add color schemes. All of a sudden those seemingly dark images became spectacular images of our colorful cosmos!
The students were not done after they created their works of astrophotography art. Their work has now been combined into a new exhibition at the Museum! Students were also present for the exhibit’s opening weekend (which coincided with AstroJam, the Museum’s annual astronomy event) where they led activities on color, filters, and light, to pass on to Museum visitors their knowledge of telescopes and our Cosmos.