Why are most of the photos shared by NASA ‘enhanced’?

Why are most of the photos shared by NASA “enhanced”? Why don’t they post the original photo, but rather a version enhanced with effects? Similar to a photo you take of something opposite that same photo with a filter on it. Isn’t it more important to share the original photo instead of being presented with a modified photo?

Asker: A, 24 years old


Space telescope photos are edited for two reasons.

1) Firstly, the original photos are processed to correct known telescope deviations or camera defects: eg correction of image distortion or correction of malfunctioning pixels. This process is called calibration (or calibration in nicer Dutch) and converts the bit values ​​that come out of the camera into physical quantities such as Watt/pixel. This first step is necessary to be able to analyze the images scientifically.

2) In addition (or after) there is also a second step that embellishes the images to clarify certain aspects or to make them ‘more beautiful’. This second step produces images that are more suitable as illustrations or for public relations, but are usually no longer intended for scientific analysis. The general public normally only gets to see the latter, for scientific research the other types of images (the original and the calibrated) are usually also available, sometimes only after a certain period of time, so that the builders of the space telescopes in question can first do their research themselves. complete.

In principle, your idea is very good to make the original photos available to the general public, but it takes some effort to interpret them and to see what is real and what is not. An example of what happens when not all camera defects are corrected (or not properly) for the general public can be found here: https://soho.nascom.nasa.gov/hotshots/2003_01_17/

Why are most of the photos shared by NASA ‘enhanced’?

Answered by

Dr. David Bergmans

solar physics, astrophysics

Royal Observatory of Belgium
Boulevard Boechout 10 1020 Brussels


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