Spectrum photography didn’t go out of fashion after the invention of true colour photography, it just got infitinely more sophisticated. I doubt if there are many people around who haven’t seen the beautiful photographs of our universe taken with the Hubble Space Telescope.
If you haven’t, or if you have, and you would like to see some more check out the Hubble Website, which has thousands more photographs as well as background information on their subjects and the way the photographs have been made. There is also further background information on this page of the Wikipedia.
The project to put this telescope into space actually started in the 1970s, but was many times delayed owing to funding problems on the one hand and the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster on t. It was eventually launched in 1990, but even then had problems because the main mirror had not been prepared correctly.
The telescope camera measures not only visible light, but also the infrared and ultraviolet spectrums. The “pictures” it takes are though, like Prokudin-Gorskii’s, in black and white, and it is only with processing that the colours are added in.
In a very similar way to what we saw yesterday here are three photographs of Saturn and its rings taken in the various spectrums, with the colours already added in according to the spectrum.
Saturn With Rings Tilted Toward Earth
The colour photographs that are eventually produced serve different purposes and consist of natural colour, which one might see with the eyes if you had the right vantage point, like this beautiful image of the rings of Saturn and one of its moons.
The Rings of Saturn and one of its Moons
The photographic colour may also be representative as in this photograph of Jupiter and its moons taken in the infrared spectrum, which is of course not normally visible to the naked eye.
Jupiter and Satellites in Infrared
The most stunning images though come from the photographs that have been enhanced with colour to show images and detail that would be otherwise quite beyond our ability to visualise. Many of these photographs are made using the same technique that Prokudin-Gorskii used: by assigning green, red and blue to various parts of the spectrum.
The first photograph below is of a new red spot that appeared on Jupiter, and then there are some photographs of Nebulae, showing their intricate rings of gas, which is only possible with this sort of enhanced photography.
New Red Spot appears on Jupiter
The Cat’s Eye Nebula
The Crab Nebula
The Helix Nebula
The Swan Nebula (M17)
The Carina Nebula
The technique can also be used to visualise the cosmic fallout from a supernova explosion. Here is part of the press release describing the photograph below from the Hubble Website.
The Hubble Heritage image of N 49 is a color representation of data taken in July 2000, with Hubble’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2. Color filters were used to sample light emitted by sulfur ([S II]), oxygen ([O III]), and hydrogen (H-alpha). The color image has been superimposed on a black-and-white image of stars in the same field also taken with Hubble.
Supernova Remnant LMC N-49
And here’s one of the most impressive of the photographs I’ve seen. These are globular clusters of hundreds of thousands of stars. The position of these stars is not far from our own galaxy.
Globular Cluster NGC 6397
Finally here is a video describing Hubble’s First Decade. You can find about a dozen more videos on the Hubble Website.