Mars or Bust

If all goes well (and that’s a big “if” considering our Martian track record) there will be six active missions on and around Mars next year. A pair of identical Mars rovers, significantly bigger than the Sojourner rover from several years ago, will land on the planet. One of these just recently took off, and the other will take off soon. Wish them luck…

NASA is obviously a good place to go when you want to learn about space missions, but I have been very impressed with These guys launched their site in the middle of the dot-com frenzy, and I remember thinking at the time that it was an unlikely way to make money. Happily, though, they’re still in business, and they have some really good material. For instance, you can visit their Mars rover page or check out the nifty 3-D pictures of the surface of the sun. I particularly enjoyed a philosophical discussion about how colors are applied to Hubble Space Telescope pictures: Coloring the Universe: Why Reality is a Gray Area in Astronomy. What would Mars look like if you were really there? It’s a fair question. Maybe you will go there someday. But what would the Eagle Nebula look like if you were there? It’s a much trickier question to answer. For starters, what does it mean to be “there” when there is the Eagle Nebula? From the article:

The quintessential Hubble photograph is a 1995 image of the popular Eagle Nebula, also known as M16 or the Pillars of Creation. The soaring structures had one of their red emissions converted to green — by the astronomers who took the picture — in order to highlight scientific detail. In “reality,” no green was detected coming from the Pillars. Interestingly, all Hubble images are created with black-and-white cameras. Ones and zeros are sent to Earth. Color is dropped in later with the popular Photoshop program.

For a good demonstration of this, look at this image of the Hourglass Nebula and tell me the Photoshop expert who got their hands on it wasn’t trying to make it look like a giant eyeball. It’s a beautiful and compelling image, but how much of it is marketing?

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