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Coloring the Universe
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Coloring the Universe


Talking light, the electromagnetic spectrum, color, astronomy and STEM careers with the Scituate RI middle school.

Talking light, the electromagnetic spectrum, color, astronomy and STEM careers with the Scituate RI middle school.

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  • So, let’s look more way up there. Cosmic images provide an opportunity for us to consider some universal laws, processes and phenomenon. But also some of pretty big questions facing humans - where do we come from, and where are we going? There is much astronomy available, from a fleet of telescopes on the ground and in space. Terabytes upon terabytes of data.
  • Here’s an example: This is an optical image from the Hubble Space Telescope of a "supernova remnant" Cassiopeia A, Cas A for short, a star that has exploded and is spewing out this hot gas about 10,000 light years away from us. If one light year is about a trillion kilometers, that’s pretty far, and we’re definitely safe from it. But in the optical image, you see delicate filamentary structure at around the 10,000 degree mark. Very lovely.
  • Looking at Cas A in many other kinds of light, however, and eventually you will get a more complete picture. Here, death comes alive in this X-ray image of Cas A from the Chandra X-ray Observatory (looking at material that’s Millions of degrees hot). If you start to piece things together, you can learn a lot more about the rules of the Universe.  
  • Fitting the pieces together.
  • Fitting the pieces together. We can even take this a step further even and map all of the different kinds of data into 3d space to get a 3d map of this exploded star. Interestingly, we created this 3d map using software that was adapted from a medical application used to image the brain. You can download and work with our 3d data on Cas A here. http://3d.si.edu/explorer?modelid=45
  • What if you have 7 different cuts of light? Astronomers have used this set of single-color images, shown around the edge, to construct the color picture of a ring of star clusters surrounding the core of the galaxy NGC 1512. These pictures were taken by 3 different cameras on board Hubble. Each of the 7 images represents a specific slice of light, from ultraviolet to near infrared. Astronomers chose these colors to emphasize details in the ring of young star clusters around the core of the galaxy.  
  • Cur iouser and Cur iouser About Mar sNASA's most recent rover on the red planet has sent a beautiful postcard from Mars. Taken just a coupleweeks after the Curiosity rover landed on Mars on August 6, 2012, the foreground shows the gravellyarea near Curiosity's landing site. In the distance is the base of the 3.4 mile-(5.5 kilometer) tall mountaincalled Mount Sharp, where the rover should eventually end up. The color scale has been enhanced inthis photo to show the Martian scene in lighting conditions similar to what we have on Earth. This colorenhancement helps the scientists who are actively analyzing the terrain from afar.Great piece on de-mosaic-ing this image: http://www.planetary.org/blogs/emily-lakdawalla/2012/08241439-mastcam-bayer.html
  • The images I’ve showed today are all in our book, available on Amazon.com


  • 1. Kim Arcand “Your Ticket to the Universe” NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory April 2014 @ Scituate Middle School Twitter: @kimberlykowal Coloring the Universe
  • 2. NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory
  • 3. Started off studying this. Tiny stuff.
  • 4. Moved into this
  • 5. Ended up here. Huge stuff.
  • 6. ZAP! You shuffle along a carpet, reach out to touch a doorknob and—zap!—a sudden flow of current, or electric discharge, gives you a mild shock. The cause? Friction between your feet and the carpet built up negative electric charge on your body. Electric discharges can occur wherever there is a large build-up of electric charge, and can create spectacular displays of sudden energy release on Earth and in space. http://hte.si.edu/electric
  • 7. Atomic Light Show Atoms, the building blocks of matter, are constantly in motion, moving around at speeds that are thousands of miles per hour at room temperatures, and millions of miles per hour behind a supernova shock wave. In a collision of an atom with another atom, or with a free-roaming electron, energy can be transferred to the atom. This extra energy can then be released in the form of a light wave. http://hte.si.edu/atoms
  • 8. Seeding The growth of new structures depends on the introduction of novel material into an environment. Bees distribute pollen from one plant to another, promoting reproduction in plants. Farmers seed and fertilize soil to enable the growth of selected crops. Oxygen, iron and other heavy elements necessary for the formation of planets are distributed into interstellar space by supernova explosions. http://hte.si.edu/seedingmore.html
  • 9. A lot of data, in many kinds of light
  • 10. The electromagnetic spectrum
  • 11. Take an alien to a baseball game
  • 12. Take an alien to a baseball game
  • 13. Delicate filamentary structure at 10,000
  • 14. Death comes ALIVE!
  • 16. MAPPING INTO 3 DIMENSIONS http://3d.si.edu/
  • 17. The Age of Photoshop
  • 18. 10001010100010010111110101010010101010100100101010 11111101010100101100010010101001001010100010101001 01010101000101001111111010100000101101000100100100 10100101010100111111101101010010010010111111010011 01010110100010101111010101010101001010101110110010 10101001100101010101001010101010100101101111010001 00101001011001000001010011111010010101001010110101 01001010101010010010010100101010101001111010010001 00101001010101001010101010010101010010101001100101 01010100010111101101010010010010111111010011010101 10100010101111010101010101001010101110110010101001 11111101010000010110100010010010010100101010100111 10100101010010101001010101001010110100101010100101 00101010101010111011001010101001100101010101001010 10101010010110111101000100101001011001000001010011 11101001010101010111011001010101001100101010101001 010101010100101101111010001001010010 What the data really looks like
  • 19. Science publications
  • 20. Add Color
  • 21. This is contributing to the informational quotient of an image. Oxygen Neon Magnesium Silicon & Sulfur Making the invisible visible
  • 22. Many colors
  • 23. Patchwork Sun
  • 24. Earth vs. Mars
  • 25. kkowal@cfa.harvard.edu Twitter: @kimberlykowal http://chandra.si.edu http://yourtickettotheuniverse.com