Dr. Travis Rector, interim director of UAA’s new planetarium, was recently published in a book reviewed online by the New York Times. He was in the Cerra Tololo observatory when he took the picture included in the book, through a telescope, of “The Cat’s Claw Nebula.”
The book Rector’s image is published in is titled “A Guide to the Cosmos, in Words and Images.” It includes contributions from many other astronomers from several different locations, including the Hubble space telescope.
The Cat’s Claw Nebula, a giant red cloud of gas in which new stars are forming, is shaped as its name implies. The pictures are used, besides for research, for the public, to “show people what we see when we use our telescopes,” Rector said. “Some of these images were generated from data obtained for my research, but most were generated to demonstrate the technical capabilities of the telescopes. They are of course also intended to share with people the natural beauty of the astronomical objects we study.”
According to New York Times contributor Dennis Overbye, “you can sit and look through this book for hours and never be bored by the shapes, colors and textures into which cosmic creation can arrange itself.”
Besides his work at UAA and Cerra Tololo, Rector has images generated from the Gemini Observatory, the NationalOptical Astronomy Observatory and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.
While astronomers have used “sharpening” to enhance an image given from a telescope, Rector prefers not to. Although sharpening an image can improve quality, it also can distort the original shape of the object. “The goal is to show these objects as our telescopes see them,” Rector said.
Only a few of his images have been sharpened, the only other editing he does is “removing defects in the data and artifacts from the data reduction process,” according to Rector
Telescopes work by using electronic sensors to “see” things outside our visible spectrum. The result is one black and white image. Astronomers use colored filters to create several different exposures: red, green, and blue, which combine into a “natural color” image. The final outcome is a representation of what might be seen if we were close enough.
Rector has been a professional astronomer since 1998, and plans on continuing his research. According to him, images are released on a regular basis, “so we have more images coming out in the next month or so.”
Rector’s images are available on his Web site, aftar.uaa.alaska.edu.