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Here you see one of the landmark sites in outer space–the distant Cat’s Eye Nebula, as photographed by the Hubble Space telescope (top) and by a ground-based camera at the Palomar Observatory in California. Scientists who took the Palomar image say it is the “sharpest” photo ever taken of space. Not everyone agrees with them–certainly not the scientists who run the Hubble telescope. Go here to read about the argument.
As regular followers of this blog know, I love all this imagery. So this battle between telescopes is fascinating to me. The Palomar people say they achieved clarity by using a technique called “lucky imaging.” (That sounds suspiciously like the way I take pictures, though my luck isn’t so good.) With lucky imaging, you take a whole bunch of pictures and use a computer to combine the sharpest parts of each into a final image. It’s kind of equivalent to high dynamic range imaging, except that the scientists are trying to get sharpness, not a wide tonal range. Now, let me be clear about something: I find the Hubble shot to be far more pleasing, whether it’s sharper or not.
–David Schonauer