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You could deduce that from what I wrote if you wish, since, as you know, I am a perceptions freak. For Joe Public, the Hubble pictures are the only part of the project they can enjoy. Both NASA and the ESA say that Hubble is a vital research tool AND a PR boon.

My interest in the subject is the PR side (i.e. PeRceptions). Professionally I have to make many assumptions about companies I work with, because there's never time to go in depth - except when working in a multidisciplinary team. So one has to take a lot on trust - combined with 40 years of experience in developing a decent bullshit detector. And then I get to work on how to polish the communication channel they are using or suggest new channels and new solutions.

So, from an inspiration POV, i.e. how to get people interested in astronomy in general and maybe study the subject, the 20k observatory in Wales may be at least as inspiring (and more graspably achievable) as the Hubble pictures.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sat Jan 23rd, 2010 at 10:46:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
they are stunning, sven.

better than any human special effects...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sat Jan 23rd, 2010 at 10:58:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Then again, for the public a little versed in astronomy, those photos from the backyard observatory are recognisable as standard shots of the brightest spectacles on the Northern night sky. Some of those you can see visually with a small telescope or even the naked eye (I saw a third of them). Meanwhile, a lot of the 'Hubble art' is not reproducable with object s observable from your backyard.

However, what amazes me is the evolution of electronic astro-photo color images. Back when I studied astronomy, everyone agreed that CCDs can't beat the color images made by the big observatories from film or glass plate photographs in beauty: too coarse, too narrow field of vision, etc. (Sidenote: any astronomer will tell you that there is no such thing as a "true colour image", and real information is on the B&W frames made with different filters; so old colour astro-photos were PR, too.) But CCD technology evolves, and the pictures in your link look almost as good as those old ones.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Jan 23rd, 2010 at 02:50:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And where exactly are these people 'a little versed in astronomy'?

I can present billions of people who only know the existence of the universe through photographs they have seen. Most of these people cannot connect what they have seen with their daily lives. The photographs are as important as wallpaper.  A background to the lives that are important to them.

Where I disagree with many here at ET is in how to 'sell' different ways of  thinking. Personally I don't hold a great deal of confidence in any of the explanations, but I do enjoy the holding of those positions, in a vague kind of support for intellectual biodiversity.

There is a tendency of science to become increasingly monolithic - until the appearance of the paradigm-changing theorem that sends all previous knowledge to the back of the bike sheds.

The exciting bit of science is always that transition.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sat Jan 23rd, 2010 at 06:44:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Are you claiming that from an inspiration POV, ... the 20k observatory in Wales may be at least as inspiring ... as the Hubble pictures is a way of selling astronomy? To me it sounds like a perfect populist argument to kill the Hubble Space Telescope. The 20k observatory in Wales is not capable of contributing to the advancement of astrophysics like the HST is (which is why the HST was built - if astronomy research could be done on 20k don't you think astronomers would do it? Are professional astronomers that stupid?).

As a PR person, how would you spin this to encourage people to support the development of powerful research telescopes rather than not? Because this doesn't seem to me to be it.

Do you not care what the effect of your PR pronouncements may be on science policy? Or do you actually believe that the HST billions were mis-spent?

There is a tendency of science to become increasingly monolithic - until the appearance of the paradigm-changing theorem that sends all previous knowledge to the back of the bike sheds.

This is a myth - actually a very damaging one. The paradigm-changing result doesn't consign the previous knowledge to the scrap-heap of history.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jan 23rd, 2010 at 07:25:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
From an inspiration POV, I'm fairly sure that the main reason the HST had a recent refit instead of being junked was because it's been such an impressive source of pretty pictures. Some of the images have become iconic and instantly recognisable.

But ask the hypothetical average person to name one piece of astrophysics the HST has influenced, and you'll get a blank look.

The great thing about these amateur images is that they look Hubble-ish but someone took them from their back garden. It's not totally impossible that someone will see them, wonder how they were done, and start finding out about telescopes and CCDs. From there it's not a huge step to Real Science - if only because you need to know what the different colour filters actually filter so you can use them properly.

You can get good astrophotographic images for a lot less than 20k, and if you happen to grow up with a back garden telescope and are curious, it's not a trivial resource to get you started in a professional direction.

The problem with Malin's images is that they're not accessible in the same way. If you need to travel to Mauna Kea, Las Palmas or some other Giant Scope Home to take your shots, or (more likely) book time on same remotely, you've eliminated that experience of participation for most people.

What would be immensely cool - and almost certainly won't happen, because it would be too damn expensive - would be for Hubble to become a public access telescope after it's decommissioned. I'm not sure how much STSCI costs to run, but it's not completely unlikely that there are a few million amateurs worldwide who'd be willing to pay £100 a year for a chance to get some CCD time on Hubble.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat Jan 23rd, 2010 at 08:05:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm fairly sure that the main reason the HST had a recent refit instead of being junked was because it's been such an impressive source of pretty pictures.

I'm no NASA insider to tell the real reasons, but it had something to do with a change at NASA's helm and the fact that HST's successor (the James Webb Telescope) is still years away.

This is not to dismiss the power of the HST pretty pictures, but I don't think anyone in this debate is challenging that. (As I wrote, STScI has its own department for making the PR pretty pictures, and they did a fine job to make people forget the error made in polishing of the main mirror, and the massive cost overruns needed for corrective optics.)

The great thing about these amateur images is that they look Hubble-ish but someone took them from their back garden.

More David Malin-ish than Hubble-ish :-)

What would be immensely cool - and almost certainly won't happen, because it would be too damn expensive - would be for Hubble to become a public access telescope after it's decommissioned.

If it could go on, it wouldn't be decommissioned :-) HST servicing isn't just about the replacement of instruments with improved ones, you have to replace solar cells and positioning gyroscopes. Once NASA stops funding for servicing missions, HST is poised to be dead in a few years, and there is a lot of professional work only it can do until then. (The JWT wll come in what, 2014 at the earliest?) And it's too damn big to be allowed to fall down on its own, so there has to be a controlled crash eventually.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Jan 24th, 2010 at 03:42:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
James Webb Space Telescope - Wikipedia
The observatory is due to be launched no earlier than June 2014 and is currently scheduled to be launched by an Ariane 5 from Guiana Space Centre Kourou, French Guiana, into an L2 orbit with a launch mass of approximately 6.2 tons. After a commissioning period of approximately six months, the observatory will begin the science mission, which is expected to last a minimum of five years.

(I don't know why I left "Space" out of its name twice...)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Jan 24th, 2010 at 03:43:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have a lay person's question - the wiki states:

James Webb Space Telescope - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The JWST will not be a complete successor, because it will not be sensitive to all of the light wavelengths that Hubble can see. The main scientific goal is to observe the most distant objects in the universe, those beyond the reach of either ground based instruments or the Hubble.

So, how is it possible that the JWST, which apparently is less sensitive to all light wavelengths than Hubble, should be able to observe objects that where beyond what Hubble could perceive?

by Fran on Sun Jan 24th, 2010 at 04:02:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Good layman question!

The JWST will be less sensitive to more bluish wavelengths than the HST, however, it will be much more sensitive to reddish and infrared wavelengths. Now, the light of the most distant objects is significantly redshifted. So, while all galaxies are the brightest in or near the band of visible light, the light of the furthest-away galaxies was released so long ago and redshifted so much until it gets into our telescopes that these galaxies can be best detected in the near infrared.

As for redshift: this is usually explained for laymen in terms of the Doppler effect (e.g. the lower pitch of the noise of receding trains), but for cosmological redshift, that is less helpful. That the Universe expands should be understood as space itself expanding -- thus, a wave of light travelling across it is stretched, too. That means that the wavelength of the wave of light is increased. Red light has longer wavelength than blue light, hence it's called redshift.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Jan 24th, 2010 at 06:15:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks DoDo, makes sense to me. :-)
by Fran on Sun Jan 24th, 2010 at 11:55:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Illustrating what I said above, from Open University, here is the Sun's spectrum:

...and a typical spiral galaxy spectrum:

A redshift of z=9 (which is in the middle of where the JWST wants to look) means that wavelengths expand 10x, that is by an order of magnitude, or one tick mark to the right on the horizontal axis of the above diagram.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Jan 24th, 2010 at 06:24:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
BTW, if anyone is curious what's the possible maximum in redshift: 1089, that's the redshift of the Cosmic Microwave Background, which was a yellowish light when released (the thermal radiation of non-transparent plasma turned transparent gas), but the Universe expanded 1090x since then. However, it took some time from there for the first stars to light up, so the most distant galaxies observable even in theory will have redshifts in the dozens at most.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Jan 24th, 2010 at 06:32:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Are you arguing that the pictures from the shed in Wales should therefore be suppressed? Of course you aren't. Neither do I believe the HST funds were misspent.

But I do believe 'scientists' need to do a better job of promoting their relevance to society. Thus I worked on a major project last year to promote investment in the new space 'education' complex planned for the Tuorla Observatory near Turku, in Finland. This will add another planetarium, an exhibition space and other visitor amenities.

The large Herschel mirror was ground at Tuorla. Tuorla Observatory is a division of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Turku. Together with Space Research Laboratory in the Physics division it forms the Väisälä Institute for Space Physics and Astronomy (VISPA).

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Jan 24th, 2010 at 06:25:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And where exactly are these people 'a little versed in astronomy'?

Huh? All around the world... There are LOTS of amateurs and interested, some as serious as the maker of those photos, some just visiting public observatories now and then, some just buying books or reading an article or two. You may not have met such people yourself in the media world, but it is pretty widespread.

I can present billions of people

Will billions of people bother to look even at the photographs in your link? Methinks some selection works there already.

know the existence of the universe through photographs they have seen.

Photograph vs. visual is not the point. That the brightest stellar objects visible from the mid latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere are the most observed doesn't just mean that most serious amateurs are likely to have observed them, but also that photos of those objects are most likely to end up as illustration in books and articles.

Where I disagree with many here at ET is in how to 'sell' different ways of  thinking.

What new way of thinking is to be sold with these photos exactly?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Jan 24th, 2010 at 03:12:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
For Joe Public, the Hubble pictures are the only part of the project they can enjoy.

Remember the one about how trying to justify NASA's space program on the fact that non-stick frying pans came out of it is hugely unambitious.

It would have been ridiculous to sell the Hubble project to Joe Public because "in addition, you'll get pretty pictures" because you could have answered "we can get pretty pictures for $20k, why fund a multimillion dollar space telescope?". The same thing goes for an ex-post facto justification of why the Hubble was a great thing.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jan 23rd, 2010 at 03:58:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Precisely! You ignore these perceptions at your peril.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Sat Jan 23rd, 2010 at 06:18:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Care to use your PR-jutsu to buttress rather than undermine research spending? In this thread you have provided and advocated a perception destructive to the advancement of science. Was that intentional?

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jan 23rd, 2010 at 07:26:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As Migeru said, what perception management was your goal by comparing the beauty and cost of those backyard pictures and HST pretty pictures?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Jan 24th, 2010 at 03:47:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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