Faith in scientific images

A book review in yesterday's Seed Magazine grabbed my attention. Veronique Greenwood, in an article entitled 'Faith and the Scientific Image' examines Kelly Wilder's new book Photography and Science (Reaktion Books).

Greenwood writes: "Imaging is one of the foundations of modern science. It can also be one of its most exciting elements for young scientists—nowhere is the pursuit of truth and the revelation of the invisible as well embodied as in the scientific image."

I've always been fascinated by the way astronomers 'bend the truth' in their beautiful depictions of far-away galaxies.

This image (NASA/courtesy of was produced when NASA's Spitzer, Hubble, and Chandra space observatories teamed up to create a multi-wavelength, false-colored view of the M82 galaxy.

X-ray data recorded by Chandra appears in blue; infrared light recorded by Spitzer appears in red; Hubble's observations of hydrogen emission appear in orange, and the bluest visible light appears in yellow-green.

The image is amazing, awe-inspiring. But as Greenwood notes, "These manipulations can foster pervasive misunderstandings among the public about how the world really works and what science is able to illuminate."

So, perhaps rather sadly, even as we use our technology to look into the far reaches of space the photographs we produce are really just images of what we would prefer to find.  In that respect, we are looking so far and yet only seeing a reflection of ourselves.