Feb 3, 2020

False Space Colors

People who have been to space say there is not much to see. You will not find anything colorful even if you used a telescope. Many heavenly bodies emit lights beyond the wavelengths we can see. Those that do not are almost always red and blue, which remain the two most common colors in the universe.

Almost every photo you have seen of space or some other pictures of planets and comets or exploding stars is fake. However, the photos are real; it is the color that is fake.

Cameras aboard spacecraft take images using filters that isolate different wavelengths on the electromagnetic spectrum. Some, like red and blue, capture light the human eye can see. Others like ultraviolet and infrared, capture light it cannot see. All the images arrive to Earth as black-and-white frames, and then are assigned colors digitally and compiled into a composite.

NASA releases images that are 'false color', because it shows something interesting about the atmosphere and allows us see lights that would have been invisible to us. Not many would be interested in space if all they ever saw were black and white or blue and red photos. Incidentally, the sun is pure white. Photographs of the Moon, taken from space show the gray color from the surface of the Moon which is mostly oxygen, silicon, magnesium, iron, calcium and aluminum.

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