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Archive for January, 2008

Making Astronomical Art with Your PC

Monday, January 28th, 2008
Mars Polar Plains
Mars Global Surveyor Image:
Spring Thaw in Northwestern Planum Australe

Saturday I taught the first of a two part four hour class on astronomical image processing at the Adler Planetarium. The class, No Telescope, No Camera? No Problem: Making Astronomical Art with Your PC covers locating and downloading planetary and astronomical image data from the Internet and then using various image processing techniques to create finished pictures.

The first session covered both the basics of image processing and manipulation with Adobe Photoshop and how to use these techniques to transform raw PDS (Planetary Data System) image files into attractive colorized pictures. An added bonus was that these techniques are also applicable to the processing of images produced by digital cameras. The class consisted of both a lecture component and a demonstration component. Images used during the class were all downloaded from NASA JPL PDS Missions site.

For the demonstration component of the class, I demonstrated the following techniques:

  • contrast enhancement and colorization of a single Viking Lander image of the Martian surface
  • combining separate red, green, and blue Viking Lander images in order to produce a color picture while employing the contrast manipulation techniques previously illustrated
  • combining red and blue filter images from the Mars Global Surveyor Wide Angle Camera and synthesizing a green channel to create a color picture
  • using a Galileo image of asteroid Gaspra to explain enlarging and sharpening.

For some of the techniques, I showed that there was more than one way to get the job done and that the choice of methods really depended on the picture that was being worked. There was a lot of ground to cover and the class ran longer than its scheduled two hours. In addition to using Photoshop, I used both GIMP (with the PDS plug-in) and NASAView software to demonstrate how to open PDS image files and save them in standard graphics formats.

One of the exercises was to create a color picture of Mars by combining the image data from two Mars Global Surveyor Wide Angle Camera images: one taken using the blue filter, the other using the red filter. A small section of that picture is shown above. For purposes of comparison, you can compare this image with the Spring Thaw in Northwestern Planum Australe version posted on the Malin Space Science Systems web site.

Part two of the class will be held this Saturday and will cover the processing of astronomical images stored in the FITS (Flexible Image Transport System) format. For a list of this and other classes currently available from the Adler Planetarium, visit their classes page.

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Flickr, the Library of Congress, and Titanic Survivors

Thursday, January 17th, 2008
Titanic survivors along side Carpathia
Library of Congress image of Titanic survivors alongside Carpathia

The Library of Congress has just released over 3,000 royalty free photographs on Flickr. While this represents just a tiny fraction of the Library’s 1 million plus digital images, it does provide a new avenue of access to the collection.

The release consists of two collections. The 1930s-40s in Color collection features 1,615 pictures from the Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information. The News in the 1910s collection consists of 1,500 black and white photos from the George Grantham Bain News Service which even includes a photograph of George Washington’s teeth. Together these two image collections provide a fascinating look back at American history of the early to mid-20th century.

One of the photographs that I came across while going through the collection was the image shown above: TITANIC survivors on way to rescue-ship CARPATHIA. If you examine the full size image of the photograph you will see that it doesn’t look quite right. Also interestingly the photo is dated as “between 1910 and 1915”. I found this curious since the exact date of the recovery of the Titanic’s survivors is a matter of record (April 15, 1912). So is it a photograph of one of Titanic’s lifeboats – or just some generic or staged lifeboat image that the news service labeled as being of survivors of the Titanic?

An excerpt from the full size version on Flickr is shown in Figure 1 below.

Titanic survivors, Flickr full size
Figure 1. Full size section of Titanic survivors in lifeboat being rescued by the Carpathia.

I next went to the Library of Congress’ site and downloaded their full size scan (22 megabytes). Shown below is a full size excerpt of the two passengers from the rear upper left of the lifeboat.

Library of Congress Titanic scanx
Figure 2. Full size excerpt from the Library of Congress’ scan.

From this high resolution version, it appears obvious that the original glass negative has been retouched in the form of someone inking in black lines in order to “improve” the picture. In my opinion the emotional impact of the image suffers as a consequence and the poor quality of this “improvement” serves as a visual distraction to the viewer

I recommend that you take a trip over to the Library of Congress Flicker Photograph Collection and browse through the collection. For more information about the Library of Congress photographs on Flickr visit the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Reading Room. The full digital image collection of the Library of Congress can be browsed at the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog where over 1 million digitized images are available.

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National Space Society’s Heinlein Award

Friday, January 11th, 2008
Apollo 13 astronaut James Lovell, Jim Plaxco, and NSS Executive Director George Whitesides and the Heinlein Award
Apollo 13 astronaut James Lovell, Jim Plaxco, and NSS Executive Director George Whitesides and the Heinlein Award

I recently took the time to cast my ballot for whom I considered deserving of the Robert A. Heinlein Memorial Award. This award is sponsored by the National Space Society and serves to honor those individuals who have made significant lifetime contributions to the creation of a free spacefaring civilization. The Award is in memory of science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein. In addition to his hard SF novels, Heinlein served as a Director of the L5 Society – which later merged with the National Space Institute to form the National Space Society. The 12th Heinlein Award will be presented at the National Space Society’s 27th International Space Development Conference to be held in Washington, DC in May 2008.

If you take a look at the above picture, you will see me holding the Heinlein Award that was presented to Captain James Lovell of Apollo 13 fame in 2004 at a ceremony at the Illinois Institute of Technology. And yes, the award is in the form of a brass cannon. Why a cannon? In what I consider Heinlein’s best novel – The Moon is a Harsh Mistress – the brass cannon was the symbol of the lunar revolution. In fact The Brass Cannon was the working title of the book until it was renamed The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Quoting from the book: “When Luna adopts a flag, I would like it to be a cannon… It can fly in our hearts… a symbol for all fools so ridiculously impractical as to think they can fight city hall.”

In order to be eligible to receive the Heinlein Award, the person must either still be living or have passed away less than three years prior to the starting date of the ISDC at which the award is presented. Additionally, a person can receive the Heinlein Award only once. Previous Heinlein Award winners are Dr. Gerard K. O’Neill, Sir Arthur C. Clarke, Dr. Wernher von Braun, Gene Roddenberry, Dr. Robert H. Goddard, Dr. Buzz Aldrin, Dr. Carl Sagan, Neil Armstrong, Robert Zubrin, Capt. James Lovell, and Gen. Chuck Yeager.

In voting for the recipient, you get to vote for three candidates – first, second, and third choices. A list of the top vote getters from prior years is provided as an aid but space is provided for write-ins of your own. The list of previous non-winning top vote getters is:

Anousheh Ansari
Robert Bigelow
Ray Bradbury
Pres. George Bush
Maj. Gen. Michael Collins
Walter Cronkite
Dr. Peter Diamandis
Hugh Downs
Dr. Frank Drake
Freeman Dyson
Dr. Peter Glaser
Dr. Michael Griffin
Tom Hanks
Dr. Stephen Hawking
Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam
Peter Kokh
George Lucas
F. Storey Musgrave
Elon Musk
Frederick Ordway
Dr. Jerry Pournelle
Dr. Sally Ride
Burt Rutan
Dennis Tito
Dr. Pete Worden
Capt. John Young

Online voting for the Heinlein Award ends January 15, 2008. Voting is restricted to current members of the National Space Society so if you’re not a member and want to be able to vote, you had better join.

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Amazing Creations Digital Art Contest

Sunday, January 6th, 2008

The CGSociety and NVIDIA are sponsoring an Amazing Creations digital art contest. The contest challenges digital artists to “create artistically and technically excellent images of things that are impossible in the real world… Specifically we want to see exciting new images, that are clearly a product of the digital world. However, we don’t just want technically excellent renders that are lacking in artistic beauty. The whole point is to create images that are clearly creations of the digital world but retain the artistic beauty and composition of a traditional painting.” Prizes for the contest total over $21,000.

It wasn’t until today that I actually submitted my entry for the contest. Unfortunately contest rules do not allow me to publish that image here at this time. I will add it at a later date. You can see my entry Inside A Transdimensional Timeship in the contest forum. This image was inspired by the tessellated works of M.C. Escher. To create this image I used a combination of Bryce and Photoshop. I don’t use Bryce much anymore and am currently focusing on improving my skills with Lightwave. However for this project I choose to go with Bryce based on my superior familiarity with that package.

The submission period for the contest ends on January 7 2008. You can see the art that has been submitted to the contest at the NVArt CGSociety forum thread.

Ad Astra, Jim

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