Cumbrian Sky reviews PICTURING THE COSMOS

Cumbrian Sky

Although astronomers and non-astronomers alike all now acknowledge that the Hubble Space Telescope has revolutionised astronomy, and enriched many aspects of our lives with its spectacular science and beautiful images, it didn’t start well. When the first images beamed back from the orbiting observatory appeared on monitors, the scientists viewing them, who had been looking forward to letting out great whoops of joy, could only let out heavy sighs of despair. The images were blurred. They were no better than pictures taken by ground-based instruments – in fact, they looked worse, as if taken through a camera with grease smeared over the front of its lens. They were soft focus snaps of the universe instead of High Definition museum quality portraits. It must have been heartbreaking for the telescope’s team to hear it described as “One giant squint for Mankind”…

Fast forward many years to the present, and “Hubble” is no longer shorthand for technical failure and managerial cock-up. For what seems like a lifetime it has been sending back unbelievably beautiful images of stars, nebulae and galaxies, many of which are so lovely, so head-shakingly stunning they could indeed be hung on the wall of an art gallery -

Actually, it hasn’t. Sent back those stunning images, I mean. The images we see in our magazines and books, on websites, everywhere, are not the images the telescope sends back.

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