Podcast: Shooting Stars, Part I - Imaging from the Hubble Telescope


In the first of our two-part series on astrophotography, we are fortunate to be joined by two scientists responsible for some of the most awe-inspiring images ever created. Astrophysicist Dr. Jeff Hester was a member of the team that built the camera on the Hubble Space Telescope and is credited with taking the “Pillars of Creation,” an extraordinary image of the Eagle Nebula that has been selected by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential photographs in history. Dr. Hester tells us about his time working on the Hubble and how this image was created, as well as offering his insight on the nature of beauty and the relationship between science and art (Hint: They’re not as different as you might think.)

Also participating in our conversation is Zoltan Levay, the Imaging Team Leader at the Space Telescope Science Institute, whose principal responsibility is to produce and publicize pictures from the Hubble. Mr. Levay discusses the relative nature of color, his techniques for coloring and composing photographs, and the differences between the images that come to him as “data” from the telescope and the published images with which we are more familiar. Again, science and art blend as we ask why certain colors are chosen to represent various celestial bodies, and come to realize that the decisions made and processes used in the top tiers of astrophotography are not that different from those we ourselves make in our own post-processing.

Guests: Zoltan Levay and Dr. Jeff Hester

Next week’s episode, Shooting Stars, Part II - Deep Sky DIY

The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the individual guests and do not necessarily represent the views of B&H Photo.

Bubble NebulaNASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

The “Pillars of Creation” from the Eagle NebulaNASA, ESA, STScI, J. Hester and P. Scowen (Arizona State University)

Carina Nebula MosaicNASA, ESA, N. Smith (University of California, Berkeley), and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Galaxy Cluster Abell 2744NASA, ESA, and J. Lotz (STScI)

Barred Spiral Galaxy NGC 1300NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Image Processing WorkflowImage Courtesy of Zoltan Levay and STScI

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Host: Allan Weitz
Senior Creative Producer: John Harris
Producer: Jason Tables
Executive Producer: Lawrence Neves


As not only a professional photographer, but an amateur astronomer, I found this podcast fascinating. I lot of what I heard in it confirmed what I had already learned about false color imaging, and It was very good to get the real story from Dr. Hester about Hubble's mirror mistake. The previous prevalent story I had heard was basically the mirror was miopic because it had been tested in air instead of a vacuum. Spherical abberation due to a faulty "gold standard" is much more believable. The troubleshooting and the fix are no less spectacular and my hat is off to everyone who had a hand in the fix.

If you would like a similar topic for another podcast, I would suggest an interview with R. Jay GaBany. I was first introduced to his images in an issue of Astronomy magazine, where he explains how to pull structure out of images of galaxies using Photoshop and why.

In 2011, he was awarded the American Astronomical Society’s (AAS) Chambliss Amateur Achievement Award for his outstanding contributions to scientific research through his astroimaging. The American Astronomical Society has also described him as the leading amateur astrophotographer for over a decade, “who has single-handedly, through his dedicated and careful work, spawned a new research direction in the exploration of galaxy evolution via low-surface-brightness imaging of galaxy halo substructures,”. The AAS press release continued by saying “GaBany has devoted hundreds of hours working with professional astronomers to make deep images that reveal faint tidal streams and rings in the outer halos of galaxies, indicative of recent and ongoing galaxy interactions with dwarf satellites, supporting studies of galaxy formation” (American Astronomical Society, 2011).

He is a member of the Board of Directors for the annual Advanced Imaging Conference, held in San Jose each fall, and served on the Advisory Council for the Kitt Peak National Observatory Visitor’s Center. He now lives in San Jose, CA.

Over 80% of his images have been published in national publications and Mr. GaBany is the only amateur astrophotographer to have had images selected to be featured by NASA twice. The second was the background for the ISS Expedition Crew 30's crew portrait.

I have corresponded with him in the past and found him to be humble and personable. You can find information and many examples of his work at www.cosmotography.com

Thanks again for a very interesting and informative podcast.

Robert: Thank you so much for the information on  Mr. GaBany, I will check out that link.  Also thanks for the comment on the podcast, we were fortunate to have Dr. Hester as a guest and the story about the actual repair was a pleasant surprise, it really took the episode to a different level.  Thank you again.