EDO - Creating Color Images

Creating Color Images - Explore, Discover, Observe Have you ever looked at gorgeous images of space objects from the great observatories such as the Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-ray Observatory, Keck Observatory, and the Spitzer Space Telescope? Have you ever wondered how they made these images? Have you ever wanted to know what these objects really look like? The goal of this project is to help you understand the process of creating these images, from beginning to the finished product.

Project Description

Show or have students find color images from the various large observatories(internet search). Discuss what the image is showing: is it visible wavelengths, is it false color, do they think this is what they would see if they traveled to the object?

Students will then choose objects to image. To do this they will utilize any of a variety of common planetarium-style software. Examples to use include, but are not limited to, The Sky or Starry Nights. To successfully choose objects, they must set the software filters for appropriate date, time, location, object type, and angular size.

Objects selected to image will be submitted to the HOU Image Request Queue for imaging by the Yerkes Observatory 24" reflector telescope. Objects should be requested to image in at least three colors, r, v, b

Once imaged, the students will use the HOU-IDL software to compare & measure the images in the different wavelengths.

Next they will use the HOU-IDL software to correct the images for camera and filter sensitivity.

Finally, the HOU-IDL software will be used to combine the images to create a color image of each object.

As an extension, the students can use internet resources to obtain images of the object in non-visible wavelengths and create a false-color image of their object.

Real World Relevance

This project will show us that objects in space look different in different wavelengths. This gives astronomers more detailed information about a particular object. It also shows us why we need to study objects in various wavelengths and why we need observatories that image in many wavelengths. Finally, it helps us to be critical thinkers when examining images of objects in space, so that you question the source of the image and how color or false-color is used in the presentation of the image.

Culminating Event or Product

Students will create a true color image of space objects they selected for study. An extension event could be to create a false color image of the same object using achived images from non-visible wavelenths.

Teacher Insights And Reflections

Main points to get across through this project:

1. Creating glorious images of space objects is an involved, rigourous process that can also involve human subjectivity.

2. Source of images and use of false color should be part of any anaylsis of an image

3. Intent of image production process should be considered. (i.e. Why are many images released with very flashy colors to represent ceratin wavelengths) Good lesson on the "politics" of science, especially the funding game)

Dedication to Roy Morris - Creator and trouble shooter for this activities for many years.  I loved collaborizing this activity with you, Roy.

- Kate


   1. Find Type of Object to Image

   2. Selecting an Object to Image

   3. Image Request

   4. Examine Images for Differences in Different Color Filters

   5. Discussion of Color Imaging, Image Corrections and Sky Noise

   6. Prelude to Correcting for Cameras and Filters

   7. Correcting Images for Cameras and Filters

   8. Aligning Corrected Images

   9. Combining Images to Make a True Color Image

  10. Create a False Color Image