The Beauty of Space Photography

So many of the images we see of outer space are either cold and flat—a planet sphere surrounded by scores of pinpoint stars against the backdrop of black space—or they’re artists’ renderings.

The pictures featured in The Beauty of Space Photography are neither of those. They’re more like conceptual art: beautiful, mysterious, and intriguing.

The video above is the latest episode of PBS’s Off Book, a web series that explores new Internet culture. In this episode, the producers interview three astrophysicists, and they are anything but the pocket-protector types. These scientists are articulate, thoughtful, and passionate about space and about photographing what they see through super-powerful telescopes.

Working for different institutions, each scientist uses photography as a major tool to study space. The images have functional value of course, to assist with measuring and documenting findings. But there’s no denying their beauty. Astrophysics also touches on philosophical questions, so the pictures trigger a sense of awe that borders on the existential.

The blue and pink swirls of cloud dust and deep spiral-shaped galaxies in these pictures are breathtaking because, as astrophysicist Emily Rice says, we know what they are and yet they are unfathomable.

The images are of such high quality that they convey some of the depth and grandeur of space. The pictures seem to contain the unbelievable immensity and allow us to focus in on just a small, beautiful piece of what is all around out there.

But that’s just part of the fun of this short video. Listening to the scientists talk about their work is like having an expert guide you through the universe, a docent who’s excited and educated about things that none of us can truly comprehend even as we gape at their beauty.

The other scientists featured in this short are David Hogg (NYU) and Zolt Levay (Space Telescope Science Institute).

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Kate Rix writes about digital media and education. Visit her website or follow her on Twitter @mskaterix.


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  • Martin Sne says:

    I just cant wait! There is no reason to take for granted that people out there should differ very much from us. A planet with life similar to what we know can be close – only four million light years or so away. So in only a little four million years of time we will hear the News from out there. It´s gonna be… wow!

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