Hubble Comes to Home Computers

The Hubble Telescope looking towards Redshift 12 galaxies.
Credit: NASA

For many years astronomical images from the world’s telescopes were reserved for an elite of astronomers and technical people. Now anyone with a desktop computer running Adobe Photoshop software can try their hand at crafting astronomical images as beautiful as those from the Hubble Space Telescope. A free software plug-in, released today, makes a treasure trove of archival astronomical images and spectra from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope, the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton X-ray observatory, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and many other famous telescopes accessible to home astronomy enthusiasts.

If there is anything that unites astronomy, it is the worldwide use of a single file format – nearly all the images of stars and galaxies produced by telescopes on the ground and in space are stored as so-called FITS files. Unfortunately this file format has been accessible to very few people other than professional scientists using highly specialised image-processing tools.

Hubble Space Telescope view of Titan with the surface revealed via methane-subtracting filters over several days. Image Credit: NASA/HST

Now a new and unique tool – the ESA/ESO/NASA Photoshop FITS Liberator — developed by imaging scientists at the European Space Agency, the European Southern Observatory and NASA makes the immense wealth of astronomical images and spectra stored in data archives around the world accessible to the layman. The only thing required is access to either Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Photoshop Elements, both leading image software packages.

For the professional creators of astronomical colour images, the plug-in revolutionises the workflow of the creation of colour images from raw data and gives a huge boost to the image quality by giving access to the full 16 bit (65536 colours) range of the observations. In addition the plug in may be used as a powerful educational tool when teaching about light, colour and digital images. Some examples of educational material are available at the web page below.

The ESA/ESO/NASA Photoshop FITS Liberator will be released today and is freely available for download . The equivalent plug-in for the free image processing desktop program (GIMP, Gnu Image Manipulation Program) is also available to handle FITS file formats for astronomical images.

Head of the development team, Lars Holm Nielsen from Denmark, says, "FITS is much more than just an image format. It is an extremely flexible file format that allows astronomers to share images and spectra in many different ways. This very versatility has made the job of producing a plug-in for Photoshop challenging. Compared to formats like JPEG, FITS files can be incredibly diverse."

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA).

Related Web Pages

A Universe Before Stars: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Earliest Moments in Time
Hunting for the Big Bang’s Fossils in the Sky
Supernova Prompts New Look at How Universe Works
Galaxy Evolution Explorer
Hubble Space Telescope
Chandra X-ray
Space Infrared Telescope Facility
Great Observatories Origins Deep Survey
Compton Observatory Gamma Rays
Deep Field South:
SIM (NASA’s Space Interferometry Mission
GAIA – The Galactic Census Project
FAME: Full-sky Astrometric Mapping Explorer