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Distributed for University of Alaska Press

Coloring the Universe

An Insider’s Look at Making Spectacular Images of Space

Distributed for University of Alaska Press

Coloring the Universe

An Insider’s Look at Making Spectacular Images of Space

With a fleet of telescopes in space and giant observatories on the ground, professional astronomers produce hundreds of spectacular images of space every year. These colorful pictures have become infused into popular culture and can found everywhere, from advertising to television shows to memes. But they also invite questions: Is this what outer space really looks like? Are the colors real? And how do these images get from the stars to our screens?

Coloring the Universe uses accessible language to describe how these giant telescopes work, what scientists learn with them, and how they are used to make color images. It talks about how otherwise un-seeable rays, such as radio waves, infrared light, X-rays, and gamma rays, are turned into recognizable colors. And it is filled with fantastic images taken in far-away pockets of the universe. Informative and beautiful, Coloring the Universe will give space fans of all levels an insider’s look at how scientists bring deep space into brilliant focus.

View the book trailer.

250 pages | 200 color plates | 10 1/2 x 10 1/2 | © 2015

Art: Photography

Physical Sciences: Astronomy and Astrophysics

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“In an era when NASA’s vast photographic archive is a click away and even the Curiosity Rover is on Instagram, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that photographing the cosmos is an amazing achievement and a complex process. Travis Rector reminds us of this in his excellent book, Coloring the Universe. Rector is an astronomer and an expert on the topic; he’s used everything from the Hubble Space Telescope to the Very Large Array to make more than 250 photos during the past two decades. He and his co-authors, Kim Arcand and Megan Watzke of the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, bring a photographer’s sensibility to the book, explaining just how NASA made some of the stunning photos we too often take for granted.”


“The winning astronomy book to get for anyone who loves and also is curious about the most beautiful images of the Universe, plus what they mean, is Coloring the Universe. With each image you look at after reading it, as well as images that you think back on that you’ve seen before, you’ll wind up seeing more, not less, than you ever saw before. It’s not just a beautiful glimpse into the Universe; it’s a peek behind-the-scenes at how astronomers are creatively and artistically enabling humanity to see the full extent of what’s present.”

Ethan Siegel | Forbes

“What singles this book out is how it lifts the curtain on the processes by which these spectacular images are made. There are explanations of the astrophysics of celestial objects, how telescopes and cameras capture and record light, as well as the software techniques used to create these striking images. . . . After reading it you’ll probably never look at an astronomy image in quite the same way again.”

Book of the Month | BBC Sky at Night Magazine

"Few things in life are more vibrant, more beautiful and more majestic than images of space. Thankfully, Coloring the Universepresents everything from nebulae, supernovas, distant galaxies and beyond in one jaw-dropping book."

Chicago Tribune

"Fascinating, beautiful, and educational. . . . Few things in life are more vibrant, more beautiful and more majestic than images of space. Thankfully, Coloring the Universe presents everything from nebulas, supernovas, distant galaxies and beyond in one jaw-dropping book."

South China Morning Post

Table of Contents

Foreword by David Malin

1. Human versus Telescope: Comparing Telescopic Vision with Human Vision
Seeing is Believing
Three Things a Telescope Does

2. This Is Not a Selfie: How Telescopes and Their Cameras Work
How a “Visible-Light” Telescope Works
Starlight, Camera, Action!
Calibrating the Camera

3. Coloring the Universe: Broadband Images, and How We Use Color
Show your True Colors
Making Color in Photography
Putting Color into Astronomical Images
Broadband Filters

4. Color is Knowledge: What Scientists Learn from Color with Broadband Filters
Stars in Living Color
Diamonds and Dust
The Colors of Galaxies

5. A Brief History of Astronomical Images: The History of How (and Why) Images are made
The Era of Photographic Plates
Astronomy for Everyone
The Rise of the Electronic Camera
The Year that Was 1994
Onward to the Future
The Time is Now

6. The Marvel of Hydrogen: The Most Important Element and How we see it
Element Number One
The Birth of Stars
Jets from Forming Stars
Choosing the Colors

7. Seeing Red: How We See Color, and How We Use it
How Our Eyes See Color
Interpretation of Color
Perception of Temperature
Here and Far
Not Paint by Numbers

8. Narrowband Imaging: Addition by Subtraction
The spaces between the Notes
Give me Oxygen
When a Star Hits Empty
Fifty Shades of Red
The “Hubble Palette” and Beyond
Big Stars go Bang

9. A Night in the Life: Observing with the Word’s Largest Telescopes
These are Professional Grade
Reservations Required?
Working Dusk till Dawn
Remote Control

10. Outside the Rainbow: The electromagnetic spectrum, different kinds of Light
The Electromagnetic Spectrum
Radio, Radio
Microwaves: More than the Oven
Infrared: Can You Feel the Heat?
Visible: The Tiny Slice You Can See
Ultraviolet: Light My Way
X-rays: Beyond the Dentist’s Office
Gamma Rays: Light to the Extreme
The Visible Made Visible

11. Photoshopping the Universe: What Do Astronomers Do? What Do Astronomers Not Do?
From Data to an Image
Enter Photoshop
Cleaning the Image
What Not to Do

12. The Aesthetics of Astrophysics: Principles of Composition Applied to the Universe
The Sharpness of an Image
Color Contrasts
The Composition of an Image
Structure and Detail
The Natural and Supernatural
Anatomy of and Image: Breakdown of the Pillars of Creation
Scientific and Beautiful

Epilogue: Seeing the Eye (and Hand) of God: Pareidolia, or Seeing Faces/Objects in Astronomical Imagery


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