Bold colour images from telescopes act as extraordinary ambassadors for research astronomers because they pique the public’s curiosity. But are they snapshots documenting physical reality? Or are we looking at artistic spacescapes created by digitally manipulating astronomy images? This paper provides a tour of how original black and white data, from all regimes of the electromagnetic spectrum, are converted into the colour images gracing popular magazines, numerous websites, and even clothing. The history and method of the technical construction of these images is outlined. However, the paper focuses on introducing the scientific reader to visual literacy (e.g.human perception) and techniques from art (e.g. composition, colour theory) since these techniques can produce not only striking but politically powerful public outreach images. When created by research astronomers, the cultures of science and visual art can be balanced and the image can illuminate scientific results sufficiently strongly that the images are also used in research publications. Included are reflections on how they could feedback into astronomy research endeavours and future forms of visualization as well as on the relevance of outreach images to visual art.
Tue, 14 Mar 17
Comments: This is the submitted version (and lacks a couple of references, has lower quality figures, etc). 51 pages, 26 images. The paper has been published in IJMPD. For images by the author see this https URL