By Justin Sweitzer
Zolt Levay visited KU to discuss his work on translating Hubble data into visual picutres on Thursday, Feb. 18.
Levay, of the Space Telescope Science Institute presented “Visualizing Hubble’s Colorful Universe,” in two separate lectures.
Children who attended the 7 p.m. lecture had the opportunity to create art trading cards, sponsored by KU’s art history department.
Images created from Hubble’s data are more useful to scientists, compared to telescopes located on the ground that capture distorted data caused by the Earth’s atmosphere.
“Telescopes on the ground observe this distortion,” Levay said. “This distorted light can be seen in the form of twinkling starlight.”
Levay described the image production of Hubble data as a “blend of art and science,” as it entails adding color, which falls out of the collected data. Color is added back into Hubble images by using three different colored filters.
“We try to stay honest to the science,” he said when explaining the image production process. “I think of these images as a byproduct of science.”
Levay briefly discussed the history of the Hubble Space Telescope and the man who inspired its name, Edwin Hubble.
“Edwin Hubble was the first one to measure distance to individual stars in our galaxy. This led to the discovery that the universe is expanding.” Levay said.
The importance of the Hubble Space Telescope was examined as Levay presented images that were put together using Hubble. He gave detailed explanations on the stellar system Eta Carinae, barred spiral galaxies and a multitude of stars.
“We see a hint of the future with many stars since Hubble gives us a very clear view of the entire life cycle of stars,” Levay said.
Hubble is soon expected to fall out of service, but Levay touched on the future of the next generation of space telescopes, including NASA’s next project, the James Webb telescope, which is expected to launch in 2018.
He said that the James Webb telescope will help astronomers “continue to answer some of the biggest questions we have ever asked,” in the continual quest for knowledge of space.
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