Through an extraordinary chance alignment, the Hubble telescope has captured a view of a face-on spiral galaxy lying precisely in front of another larger spiral. The unique pair is called NGC 3314. This line-up provides astronomers with the rare chance to see the dark material within the foreground galaxy, seen only because it is silhouetted against the light from the object behind it. NGC 3314 lies about 140 million light-years from Earth in the direction of the southern hemisphere constellation Hydra. This picture is one of many produced by the Hubble Heritage Program, created 1-1/2 years ago to publicly release some of the best celestial views taken by the telescope's visible-light camera. Now, the International Center of Photography in New York City has rewarded the program for its work with the annual Infinity Award for Applied Photography.
For 1-1/2 years, the Hubble Heritage Program has offered the public a monthly visual treat, a sumptuous picture taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.
Now the Heritage program has received a treat of its own. The International Center of Photography (ICP) in New York City will present the Sixteenth Annual Infinity Award for Applied Photography to the Heritage program at an awards ceremony May 11. The Heritage program team, composed of astronomers and other technical experts, is based at the Hubble telescope's science operations center, the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md.
The Infinity Awards, which are given in eight categories, honor excellence in the field of photography and writing. The Applied Photography category encompasses architectural, fashion, and scientific photography. The awards' selection committee, consisting of an international team of photography experts, cited the project for valuing "both scientific information and aesthetic presence" in producing celestial photographs.
Hubble Heritage Program Scientist Keith Noll is pleased that the committee understands the project's dual purpose of creating beautiful photographs without sacrificing scientific details.
"These are not just fluff photographs," he says. "We plan all our observations, keeping in mind the immense scientific value of Hubble images. We want the end products to be both beautiful images and research papers, and this has already happened."
Adds Jayanne English, one of the Heritage program's image processing specialists: "We attempt to preserve the scientific integrity of a celestial object while enhancing it visually. They're not mutually exclusive. For example, we may take a well-known image and rotate it, so that it's not the same orientation astronomers are accustomed to seeing in the astronomy catalogues of celestial objects. That small change can make the image more dynamic and adds depth."
The Hubble Heritage program provides the public with some of the very best celestial snapshots taken by the orbiting observatory's visible-light camera, the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2. The team produces a new picture every month by either mining the rich feast of images in the telescope's archive or using Hubble to make new observations of heavenly bodies that were selected by the public.
"Although astronomers don't usually make the comparison, Hubble is, essentially, a giant digital camera in orbit," Noll says. "What makes using Hubble different is that we need a lot of specialized skills to make beautiful images."
One won't find any past winners in the Applied Photography category using a camera that comes close to the size and breadth of Hubble's visible-light camera. The past winners include some of the biggest names in photography, including Annie Leibovitz, whose work has appeared in "Rolling Stone," "Vogue," and "Vanity Fair."
ICP, founded in 1974 by photojournalist Cornell Capa, celebrates photography's diversity through exhibitions, educational programs, and collections.
Visit the Heritage program website at http://heritage.stsci.edu. A new image is posted on the first Thursday of every month.
Hubble Heritage team members are Keith Noll, Howard Bond, Carol Christian, Jayanne English, Lisa Frattare, Forrest Hamilton, and Zolt Levay.
Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, MD