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What Space Really Looks Like?

[Estimated read time: 3 minutes]

Today, no matter where you are, with just a few clicks, you can access a plethora of space images right at your desktop and smartphone. Those colorful images of gigantic galaxies, nebula’s and mesmerizing gas clouds never fails to dazzle us. But the question in our hands is that do space really looks like the way we see them in these images? Well, let’s find out.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum

Before diving deep into this subject, we should first take a quick look at the electromagnetic spectrum. As you should know that humans can only see objects in the visible light spectrum, which is a narrow band stretching from 390-700 nm, the rest is undetectable to the human eye.

Electromagnetic Spectrum

To scratch the great vastness of space, astronomers and scientists use different types of telescopes and satellites. These satellites are so powerful that they can observe thousands and thousands of light years away and produce quality images with great details for us to further scrutinize.

One example of such instrument is the Hubble Space telescope. Not only the Hubble can see in visible light like ourselves, it can also observe distant objects in infrared and ultraviolet wavelengths. Almost all the original space images are taken in grayscale, those fabulous satellite images have no color. Then they are processed through different filters that allow to capture light from different important wavelengths.

Do you ever wonder why a same galaxy imaged in two different wavelengths looks just poles apart? Every different image of a same astronomical object contains some invaluable data and information about what really lies in there. Sometimes, astronomers focuses on the hydrogen composition of a distant galaxy or methane concentration on an exoplanet. Many times scientists emphasize on energy wavelengths of those objects like infrared and x ray.

Each different wavelengths are color coded and are combined in one single image to produce a magnificent piece of what we call as a ‘space image’.

One great example of such technique is this iconic picture of the Pillars of Creations.

pillars of creations

Famously known as the Pillars of Creation, Hubble took the image of elephant trunk and the star forming region in the Eagle Nebula, located at about 7,000 light years away from the Earth. With the help of infrared wavelength, Hubble was able to take a deep look at the star forming inside these gigantic structures which won’t be possible in the visible spectrum.

There is an another type of space image that you see more frequently and that’s the artist’s impression. Every now and then, we have to let our imagination do the trick and in space imagery, this is quite essential. Let’s consider one of the most famous artistic works of the TRAPPIST-1f.

Trappist 1f

The Trappist 1f is one of the four newly discovered exoplanets revolving around a dwarf star at around 40 light years from the Earth. In this image, artists tried to visualize what it looks like when humans step foot on the planet. But what made artist think this would be the case. Let’s try to figure out.

First with the help of NASA’s Spitzer Space telescope, astronomers were able to estimate its mass and density. They reached to a conclusion that the TRAPPIST 1f is most probably a rocky planet and the fact that it orbits extremely close to its parent star which is an ultra cool dwarf, liquid water could be a possibility there. And finally, because the other planets in that planetary system revolve closely around the 1f, it might be possible to see them in the sky. And bang, here it’s an artist rendering of a planetary object.

Read: What If A Black Hole Appears Near You?

One other example of the artist’s rendering is fascinating images of various exoplanets and even stars lying hundreds and thousands of light years away from the Earth. Just like the Trappist 1f, these artist impressions of stars also provide us with a unique sight on how it would be like to actually be there, but that doesn’t mean it’s false or does it?

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