Touring the Tarantula

The entire universe in blog form
Jan. 5 2007 4:37 PM

Touring the Tarantula

Dr. Henri Boffin, Deputy Head of the ESO Public Affairs Department, emailed me recently. He thanked me for putting the Tarantula nebula image in my Top Ten Images of 2006 post! Dr. Bob Fosbury, co-creator of the image, also sent me an email thanking me. Wow! It turns out Bob and I have many mutual friends, some of whom will be at the AAS meeting I'm attending starting tomorrow, so I'll have to get some gossip on him. More realistically, I'm curious about how you put together a 256 Mb image and not choke your computer to death -- astronomical images tend to have a lot of support files needed; typically the data image is only 10% of the total space needed. They must have broken it down into many pieces.

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Henri also told me they made a movie of a "flyover" of the nebula, and it's pretty fun to watch. The gas clouds trick my eye into thinking they are like mountains and valleys, with the stellar background providing a flat surface against which the clouds provide elevation. That's a very odd effect. Anyway, the movie is 27 Mb, but that's still only 10% of the whole image size. ;-)

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!