AAS 203rd Meeting, January 2004
Session 118 Reaching Out: EPO
Poster, Thursday, January 8, 2004, 9:20am-4:00pm, Grand Hall

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[118.14] Digital Image Processing Techniques to Create Attractive Astronomical Images from Research Data

T.A. Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage), Z. Levay, L. M. Frattare (STScI), J. English (University of Manitoba), K. Pummill (Gemini Observatory)

The quality of modern astronomical data, the power of modern computers and the agility of current image processing software enable the creation of high-quality images in a purely digital form that rival the quality of traditional photographic astronomical images. The combination of these technological advancements has created a new ability to make color astronomical images. And in many ways, it has led to a new philosophy towards how to create them.

We present a practical guide to generate astronomical images from research data by using powerful image processing programs. These programs use a layering metaphor that allows an unlimited number of astronomical datasets to be combined in any desired color scheme, creating an immense parameter space to be explored using an iterative approach. Several examples of image creation are presented.

We also present a philosophy on how to use color and composition to create images that simultaneously highlight the scientific detail within an image and are aesthetically appealing. We advocate an approach that uses visual grammar, defined as the elements which affect the interpretation of an image, to maximize the richness and detail in an image while maintaining scientific accuracy. By properly using visual grammar, one can imply qualities that a two-dimensional image intrinsically cannot show, such as depth, motion and energy. In addition, composition can be used to engage the viewer and keep him or her interested for a longer period of time. The effective use of these techniques can result in a striking image that will effectively convey the science within the image, to scientists and to the public.

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Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, 35#5
© 2003. The American Astronomical Soceity.