MILLINOCKET, Maine, December 21, 2014 – At this time of year, it’s fun to compare colorful Hubble telescope space photos to Christmas lights. With their splashes of red and green and blue, they show us awe-inspiring displays of galaxies, nebulae, and deep-space anomalies that would otherwise be difficult to imagine.
But there are no “natural color” cameras aboard the Hubble. The optical cameras on board are sophisticated digital cameras, which take images as grayscale pixels.
Finished color images are actually combinations of two or more black-and-white exposures to which color has been added during image processing.
Sometimes the color is made as natural as possible. However, the coloration given to the images is not just for “artistic embellishment.”
Color is added for a number of different reasons – for example, to show the dispersion detail of chemical elements and highlight features so subdued that the human eye cannot see them.
Many full-color Hubble images are combinations of three separate exposures — one each processed 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.
While you can’t make out individual colors in this photo (at a distance different colored lights blend to make white light) taken from the International Space Station, it shows increased illumination along the East Coast during Christmas time.
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