News, Updates, and Resources for Colors From Space


  • For an explanation of how color astronomical images are made, see The Meaning of Color at NASA HubbleSite  For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 5. Includes new terminology, "representative color" and "enhanced color" that have replaced the old term "false color."
  • 2 Micron All-Sky Survey
  • On color blindness...
  • Infrared Science Archive (IRSA) Online spectra:

    Online Articles and News about Colors in Astronomy

    • 2014-03-20. NASA's Spitzer Telescope Brings 360-Degree View of Galaxy to Our Fingertips. NASA RELEASE 14-081.    Excerpt: ...A new panorama from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows us our galaxy's plane all the way around us in infrared light. Touring the Milky Way now is as easy as clicking a button with NASA's new zoomable, 360-degree mosaic presented Thursday at the TEDActive 2014 Conference in Vancouver, Canada. The star-studded panorama of our galaxy is constructed from more than 2 million infrared snapshots taken over the past 10 years by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope.... Also has 8K and 24K versions of the GLIMPSE360 survey as single full-sky equirectangular projections (galactic coordinates) that can be easily used by most systems. They also have alpha channels should you want to composite this strip against other full-sky images. Permanent home for WorldWide Telescope WTML file is at All of our press release materials and public viewer links are here:
    • 2013-12-04. NASA's Cassini Spacecraft Obtains Best Views of Saturn Hexagon. - NASA RELEASE 13-358.   Excerpt:  NASA's Cassini spacecraft has obtained the highest-resolution movie yet of a unique six-sided jet stream, known as the hexagon, around Saturn's north pole. ...Better views of the hexagon are available now because the sun began to illuminate its interior in late 2012. ... these images [are] in false color, a rendering method that made it easier to distinguish differences among the types of particles suspended in the atmosphere -- relatively small particles that make up haze -- inside and outside the hexagon. See images at:
    • 2012-03-14. NASA Releases New WISE Mission Catalog Of Entire Infrared Sky. | by J.D. Harrington, Whitney Clavin, NASA RELEASE : 12-082.  Excerpt: NASA unveiled a new atlas and catalog of the entire infrared sky today showing more than a half billion stars, galaxies and other objects captured by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission. …WISE observations have led to numerous discoveries, including the elusive, coolest class of stars. …WISE also took a poll of near-Earth asteroids, finding there are significantly fewer mid-size objects than previously thought. It also determined NASA has found more than 90 percent of the largest near-Earth asteroids. …WISE found the first known "Trojan" asteroid to share the same orbital path around the sun as Earth. …For a collection of WISE images released to date, visit:  An introduction and quick guide to accessing the WISE all-sky archive for astronomers is online at: …. Read the full article:
    • 2012-03-14. The Sky in Infrared | by Bryan Mendez, NASA WISE mission. 9.1,9.2. Excerpt: Today NASA and the Wide-field Survey Explorer (WISE) Team have released the full-sky infrared observations of the sky. As part of this release, a down-sampled but very high resolution spherical image map of the infrared sky has been rendered from this dataset and is available for use! The image includes 3.4 (blue), 12 (green), and 22 micron (red) bands and has been cleaned to remove frame edge artifacts and the irregular traces of zodiacal emission. It is 19,000 x 9,500 pixels, which is ideal for all full-dome projection systems. The image is available in an equirectangular projection that will map cleanly onto a sphere and is presented in Galactic coordinates. You can find the image at the WISE website (along with an annotated version that highlights the locations of many objects of interest that have been released as images):   Note that this image aligns with other full-sky infrared images that have been available for some time at: 
    • 2011 Oct 24. NASA Telescopes Help Solve Ancient Supernova Mystery (NASA RELEASE : 11-360) Excerpt: WASHINGTON -- A mystery that began nearly 2,000 years ago, when Chinese astronomers witnessed what would turn out to be an exploding star in the sky, has been solved. New infrared observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope ( and Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE (, reveal how the first supernova ever recorded occurred and how its shattered remains ultimately spread out to great distances. The findings show that the stellar explosion took place in a hollowed-out cavity, allowing material expelled by the star to travel much faster and farther than it would have otherwise.
      "This supernova remnant got really big, really fast," said Brian J. Williams, an astronomer at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Williams is lead author of a new study detailing the findings online in the Astrophysical Journal. "It's two to three times bigger than we would expect for a supernova that was witnessed exploding nearly 2,000 years ago. Now, we've been able to finally pinpoint the cause."
      In 185 A.D., Chinese astronomers noted a "guest star" that mysteriously appeared in the sky and stayed for about 8 months. By the 1960s, scientists had determined that the mysterious object was the first documented supernova. Later, they pinpointed RCW 86 as a supernova remnant located about 8,000 light-years away. But a puzzle persisted. The star's spherical remains are larger than expected. If they could be seen in the sky today in infrared light, they'd take up more space than our full moon.
      ... observations also show for the first time that a white dwarf can create a cavity around it before blowing up in a Type Ia event. A cavity would explain why the remains of RCW 86 are so big. When the explosion occurred, the ejected material would have traveled unimpeded by gas and dust and spread out quickly.
    • 2009 August 5. NASA RELEASE: 09-181. NASA'S Spitzer Sees The Cosmos Through 'Warm' Infrared Eyes. Excerpt: WASHINGTON -- NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope is starting a second career and taking its first shots of the cosmos since warming up. The infrared telescope ran out of coolant May 15, 2009, more than five-and-one-half-years after launch. It has since warmed to a still-frosty 30 degrees Kelvin (about minus 406 degrees Fahrenheit).
      New images taken with two of Spitzer's infrared detector channels -- two that work at the new warmer temperature -- demonstrate the observatory remains a powerful tool for probing the dusty universe. The images show a bustling star-forming region, the remains of a star similar to the sun, and a swirling galaxy lined with stars.
      ...Since its launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Aug. 25, 2003, Spitzer has made many discoveries. They include planet-forming disks around stars, the composition of the material making up comets, hidden black holes, galaxies billions of light-years away and more.
      Perhaps the most revolutionary and surprising Spitzer finds involve planets around other stars, called exoplanets. In 2005, Spitzer detected the first photons of light from an exoplanet. In a clever technique, now referred to as the secondary-eclipse method, Spitzer was able to collect the light of a hot, gaseous exoplanet and learn about its temperature. Later detailed studies revealed more about the composition and structure of the atmospheres of these exotic worlds.
      Warm Spitzer will address many of the same science questions as before. It also will tackle new projects, such as refining estimates of Hubble's constant, or the rate at which our universe is stretching apart; searching for galaxies at the edge of the universe; characterizing more than 700 near-Earth objects, or asteroids and comets with orbits that pass close to our planet; and studying the atmospheres of giant gas planets expected to be discovered soon by NASA's Kepler mission....
    • 2005 Mar 3. News Release: 2005-031 Spitzer Space Telescope Provides Visual Feast Online. The magic of NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope comes alive in an online interactive presentation, available now at or The show-and-tell feature highlights colorful images of galaxies, nebulas and other celestial wonders, all captured during the mission's first year-and-a-half in space. The images, coupled with artists' concepts, text and interviews with scientists, illustrate how Spitzer's powerful infrared eyes are dramatically enhancing our knowledge of the universe. Infrared is particularly effective for penetrating thick, murky regions of space and revealing what lies beyond. Recent Spitzer discoveries include details about the chaotic planet-forming process around stars; a faint, star-like object in an area previously believed to be star-free; and a star system that may harbor the youngest planet ever found.
    • January 2004. Why can't we see green stars? From Astronomy Magazine, "Ask Astro" p. 73.
    • December 18, 2003 NASA RELEASE : 03-411 NASA Releases Dazzling Images From New Space Telescope. A new window to the universe was opened with today's release of the first dazzling images from NASA's newly named Spitzer Space Telescope, formerly known as the Space Infrared Telescope Facility. The first observations, of a glowing stellar nursery; a swirling, dusty galaxy; a disc of planet-forming debris; and organic material in the distant universe, demonstrate the power of the telescope's infrared detectors to capture cosmic features never before seen. The Spitzer Space Telescope was also officially named today after the late Dr. Lyman Spitzer, Jr. He was one of the 20th century's most influential scientists, and in the mid-1940s, he first proposed placing telescopes in space. ...While the other Great Observatories have probed the universe with visible light (Hubble Space Telescope), gamma rays (Compton Gamma Ray Observatory) and X-rays (Chandra X-ray Observatory), the Spitzer Space Telescope observes the cosmos in the infrared. Spitzer's unprecedented sensitivity allows it to sense infrared radiation, or heat, from the most distant, cold and dust-obscured celestial objects. Today's initial images revealed the versatility of the telescope, and its three science instruments. Spitzer Space Telescope (formerly SIRTF--Space Infrared Telescope Facility)
    • The Meaning of Color in Hubble Images
    • June 5, 2002 . Hubble's Infrared Camera is Back in Business -- New Images Released -- -- After more than three years of inactivity, the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) has reopened its ñnear-infrared eyesî on the universe, snapping several breathtaking views, from the craggy interior of a star-forming cloud to a revealing look at the heart of an edge-on galaxy.
    • March 20, 2002 -NASA CELEBRATES SUN-EARTH DAY WITH SOLAR X-RAY FIREWORKS -- -- Just in time for Sun-Earth Day, a new NASA spacecraft, complete with a new name, made its debut by observing a huge explosion in the atmosphere of the Sun. The blast, called a solar flare, was equal to one million megatons of TNT and gave off powerful bursts of X-rays. X-ray movie from RHESSI.(Reuven Ramaty High-Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager) spacecraft
    • March 13, 2002 -- Ultraviolet movies of Jupiter
    • Dec. 19, 2001 -- HOT GALACTIC ARMS POINT TO VICIOUS CYCLE -- NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has revealed the aftermath of a titanic explosion that wracked the elliptical galaxy known as NGC 4636. This eruption could be the latest episode in a cycle of violence triggered by gas falling into a central massive black hole. Chandra's images of NGC 4636 show spectacular symmetric arms, or arcs, of hot gas extending 25,000 light-years into a huge cloud of multimillion-degree Celsius gas that envelopes the galaxy. At a temperature of 10 million degrees, the arms are 30 percent hotter than the surrounding gas cloud. "The temperature jump, together with the symmetry and scale of the arms, suggests that we are observing the effects of a tremendous outburst that occurred in the center of the galaxy," said Christine Jones of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge, Mass., lead author of a paper on these observations scheduled for publication in Astrophysical Journal Letters. "The energy of this explosion would be the equivalent of several hundred thousand supernovas." RELEASE: 01-252
    • Nov. 29, 2001 -- Chandra captures Venus in a whole new light -- Scientists have captured the first X-ray view of Venus using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. The observations provide new information about the atmosphere of Venus and open a new window for examining Earth's sister planet. Release: 01-362.
    • Nov. 7, 2001 -- NASA'S HETE SPOTS RARE GAMMA-RAY BURST AFTERGLOW -- A rare optical afterglow of a gamma-ray burst, the most powerful type of explosion in the universe, was recently discovered by NASA's High Energy Transient Explorer (HETE), the first satellite dedicated to spotting these frequent yet random explosions that last only for a few seconds. RELEASE: 01-218
    • November 1, 2001 Hubble Reveals Ultraviolet Galactic Ring -- -- Galaxy NGC 6782, when seen in visible light, exhibits tightly wound spiral arms that give it a pinwheel shape similar to that of many other spirals. However, when the galaxy is viewed in ultraviolet light with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, its shape is startlingly different. STScI-PRC01-37.
    • Sept 14, 2001 CHANDRA SPIES RARE ISOTOPES (Sky & Telescope magazine online)
      By peering deep into the Orion Nebula, scientists using the Chandra X-ray Observatory may have solved one of the lingering questions about the early days of our own solar system.
      The team lead by Eric Feigelson (Pennsylvania State University), detected high abundances of three atomic isotopes -- aluminum-26, calcium-41, and beryllium-10 -- around young stars in the nebula. The isotopes were created by X-ray solar flares from the infant stars.
      The same elements are found in our solar system, locked tightly in ancient meteorites. Yet astronomers had struggled to understand how those isotopes got there. The isotopes have a relatively short life, meaning they must have formed sometime after the solar system's birth. Nevertheless, it remained unclear how our Sun could produce them. Only high-mass stars were believed capable of forming such isotopes. Thus the most likely suspect was a nearby supernova explosion.
      From the X-ray observations, astronomers now see that young Sun-like stars not only can produce these isotopes, they can do it in the abundances necessary to match the solar system's observed quantities. Feigelson explains, "This is an excellent example of how apparently distant scientific fields like X-ray astronomy and the origins of solar systems can in fact be linked."
    • Aug. 9, 2001 Astronomers go behind the Milky Way to solve X-ray mystery Release: 01-272
    • August 9, 2001 New View of Primordial Helium Traces the Structure of Early Universe NASA's Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer (FUSE)
    • August 9, 2001 Through layers of gas and dust that stretch for more than 30,000 light-years, astronomers using NASA's Chandra X- ray Observatory have taken a long, hard look at the plane of the Milky Way galaxy and found that its X-ray glow comes from hot and diffuse gas.
    • August 9, 2001 NASA's Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer (FUSE) satellite has given astronomers their best glimpse yet at the ghostly cobweb of helium gas left over from the Big Bang, which underlies the universe's structure.
    • Kaler, James B., "Beyond the Rainbow", Astronomy Magazine, September, 2000, pp. 38-43. ... "Astronomers have opened new windows on the universe by studying the kinds of 'light' we can't see with our eyes."
    • 06/16/00 Astronomers Win Protection for Key Part of Spectrum -- NSF Custom News Service
    • 06/16/00 SUGAR IN SPACE As but one example of the power of radio astronomy, researchers have announced the discovery of a simple sugar molecule, glycolaldehyde, in interstellar space. The location is a dense cloud of gas and dust some 26,000 light-years away, in the direction of the galactic center. According to astronomer Jan Hollis, the discovery of glycolaldehyde makes it increasingly likely that the chemical precursors of life are synthesized in these dense clouds long before the gas and dust collapses to form stars and planets. Notably, the eight-atom molecule was identified with a 12-meter-wide radio telescope atop Kitt Peak in Arizona, and the National Science Foundation will shut down this telescope in July, in preparation for a new telescope array being built in northern Chile. (Sky & Telescope magazine)
    • 04/14/00 Radio Telescope Reaches Construction Milestone (Sky & Telescope magazine)
    • 03/00 James Trefil, Reaching for the Sun -- How we learned to read the chemistry of stars and planets; (Astronomy Magazine, pages 70-74); historical references to Joseph von Frauenhofer, Gustav Kirchhoff, Robert Bunsen, Norman Lockyer.

    Hard Copy Articles About Color in Astronomy

    • Bova, Ben, Fingerprints from Rainbows, Mercury magazine, Sept/Oct 2004, p. 22-29. "Besides light's ability to illuminate the wolrd around us, it also has an equally profound ability to inform us of the nature of objects in that world."
    • Comins, Neal F., Beyond the Pale, Astronomy Magazine, May, 2002, pp.40-45.
    • Skrutskie, Michael, 2MASS: Unveiling the Inrared Universe, Sky & Telescope magazine, July 2001, p. 34.
    • Wanjek, Christopher, Chandra Delivers, Mercury Magazine, March-April, 2001 Chandra's 1st 18 months in orbit have yielded a bonanza of scientific discoveries.
    • T. Joseph W. Lazio, Razor-Sharp Radio Astronomy, May-June, 2001, Mercury Magazine. pp. 34-40. By constructing virtual telescopes the size of continents (and larger) radio astronomers are obtaining spectacular high resolution results.
    • Zimmerman, Robert, Seeing with X-ray Eyes, Astronomy Magazine, May 2001, page 36. The Chandra X-ray Observatory is giving astronomers their sharpest view ever of the high-temperature universe.

    Hard Copy Books About Color in Astronomy