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<v Maggie Linton>Hi, and welcome to another edition of Starfinder. <v Maggie Linton>I'm Maggie Linton. Have you ever done one of these paint by number pictures? <v Maggie Linton>You know the kind, where all the spaces in the picture with a number five inside <v Maggie Linton>get dabbed with the number five blue paint. <v Maggie Linton>Well, in today's show, you'll find out what this amateur technique <v Maggie Linton>has in common with the way we take and make photos from space. <v Maggie Linton>You'll also meet David Soderblom, Chief of the Research Support Division, <v Maggie Linton>who helps to interpret these photos. <v Maggie Linton>But first, we're going to speak with Eric Chaisson at the Space Telescope <v Maggie Linton>Science Institute and dip into the latest news from the HST <v Maggie Linton>data stream. <v Eric Chaisson>Today, I'd like to show you the very first picture that was telemitted to the Earth <v Eric Chaisson>by Hubble. As you know, it's not necessarily a very exciting <v Eric Chaisson>region that we first imaged because it was chosen by engineers <v Eric Chaisson>as a test region, to test the telescope's pointing, to test its focus,
<v Eric Chaisson>and to do a variety of other early engineering checks. <v Eric Chaisson>The region is called NGC3532. <v Eric Chaisson>It's simply the 3532nd object in a catalog <v Eric Chaisson>that astronomers call the New General Catalog, NGC. <v Eric Chaisson>The region is a cluster of stars--seen from the Southern Hemisphere only, can't <v Eric Chaisson>see it from the Northern Hemisphere-- which is about, oh, about 1300 <v Eric Chaisson>light years away. It has a moderate age of about 2 to 3 billion <v Eric Chaisson>years. And it's a, again, a rich cluster of stars. <v Eric Chaisson>And we were going to focus with a wide field planetary camera on one small portion <v Eric Chaisson>of that cluster. It was a very exciting time. <v Eric Chaisson>No question about it. It was more, all the more exciting because we took the image--I <v Eric Chaisson>remember exactly--twelve minutes past eleven and fourteen minutes past <v Eric Chaisson>eleven. There were two such images we first took. <v Eric Chaisson>But we didn't have a real time contact. <v Eric Chaisson>By real time I mean, we couldn't get the data to the earth immediately through the
<v Eric Chaisson>tedious communications satellites, some 22,000 miles above the earth. <v Eric Chaisson>The data was stored onboard Hubble on a rather ordinary tape recorder, <v Eric Chaisson>and then about three hours later were transmitted to the earth. <v Eric Chaisson>Now, I want to show you now those images that caused a great deal of excitement on the <v Eric Chaisson>ground when we first saw them. <v Eric Chaisson>One of the images we saw, in fact the first image we saw, really, and looked at <v Eric Chaisson>carefully, is shown on this particular monitor behind me. <v Eric Chaisson>This is the Hubble Space Telescope view in the frame at the right of a small portion <v Eric Chaisson>of the region NGC3532. <v Eric Chaisson>And by contrast, this is the same set of stars as seen from the ground. <v Eric Chaisson>Not any old ground location, one of the best viewing sites <v Eric Chaisson>on the surface of the earth, in South America. <v Eric Chaisson>And you can see already, in the very first image, that we are resolving <v Eric Chaisson>stars, especially these two stars at the top of the frame, with <v Eric Chaisson>Hubble, better than that, ground-based telescope can resolve those stars.
<v Eric Chaisson>And also, if you look at the second image that came down--a shorter <v Eric Chaisson>exposure--that image enabled us to see those two stars, <v Eric Chaisson>which were at the top of the previous frame, even more clearly now, with Hubble, <v Eric Chaisson>than we were able to, in fact, to see those two stars from the ground. <v Eric Chaisson>So this was exciting. And it was telling. <v Eric Chaisson>Because the very first image with Hubble, first light, showed <v Eric Chaisson>the objects resolve a little bit better than anything we can typically do on the ground. <v Maggie Linton>Putting a camera into space is a big enough challenge. <v Maggie Linton>But then how do we get the pictures back? <v Maggie Linton>The answer is right in front of your eyes. <v Maggie Linton>We'll explain today on Science Links. <v Maggie Linton>Let's make a video. Put the tape into the VCR.
<v Maggie Linton>And there you are, just as you were seconds before. <v Maggie Linton>But get closer to the screen. <v Maggie Linton>You're not exactly as you were. <v Maggie Linton>You've been broken into thousands of tiny blocks of color that make up an image <v Maggie Linton>that looks like you. This image is a facsimile or a lookalike of you. <v Maggie Linton>These minute video puzzle pieces are electronic impulses called <v Maggie Linton>picture elements or pixels. <v Maggie Linton>Pixels make up the images on your computer screen, too. <v Maggie Linton>Breaking a picture into many tiny elements, then reconstructing it, is not <v Maggie Linton>a brand new idea. <v Maggie Linton>Your computer at school makes a picture from tiny elements of color, too. <v Maggie Linton>But these computer pixels are digital, which means they're actually pictures <v Maggie Linton>made from numbers. They don't seem to look like anything when you're too close to them. <v Maggie Linton>But back up, and you can see that the pieces make a complete picture. <v Maggie Linton>The pictures that the Hubble Space Telescope is sending are pictures from numbers, too.
<v Maggie Linton>Let's look at how the HST sends us pictures from its orbit, <v Maggie Linton>380 miles above the Earth. <v Maggie Linton>Here's a picture from the HST. <v Maggie Linton>This image entered one of the HST's cameras looking just like this. <v Maggie Linton>The camera changed it from a single image into a <v Maggie Linton>640,000 electronic pixels. <v Maggie Linton>The CCD, or charge coupled device, inside the camera <v Maggie Linton>actually changes the light of the image into electronic pixels. <v Maggie Linton>Each pixel was scanned by the computer to determine how bright or dark it <v Maggie Linton>was. Then it was given a code number. <v Maggie Linton>The lowest number is zero. That's the darkest, black. <v Maggie Linton>The highest number a pixel gets is 255. <v Maggie Linton>That's pure white. Everything in between is a shade of gray. <v Maggie Linton>Two hundred fifty six, zero counts as a number, is not just a random <v Maggie Linton>number. That's how many different elements can be stored in the counting unit
<v Maggie Linton>of a computer system called a byte. <v Maggie Linton>In this case, it's the number of different shades between white and black <v Maggie Linton>that can be stored in one byte. <v Maggie Linton>To capture a color image like this one, the cameras on the HST <v Maggie Linton>must do a little more work. <v Maggie Linton>They take three black and white frames of the same image and pass the light through <v Maggie Linton>blue, green and red filters. <v Maggie Linton>When the image has been converted into pixels and coded with the right number of values, <v Maggie Linton>it's sent back to earth by a process called telemetry, sending information <v Maggie Linton>by radio signals. <v Maggie Linton>Telemetry has been used to send images back from space since the first satellites were <v Maggie Linton>launched in the 1960s. <v Maggie Linton>Close up views of Mars, moon craters, and planetary rings have come <v Maggie Linton>back to us by telemetry. <v Maggie Linton>The millions of digital electronic pulses that now make up the images leave <v Maggie Linton>the HST on a path of radio waves headed for the Space Telescope
<v Maggie Linton>Science Institute in Baltimore. <v Maggie Linton>But it's not exactly a straight shot. <v Maggie Linton>First, they head farther into space, about 22,000 miles, <v Maggie Linton>to a satellite in the tracking and data relay system. <v Maggie Linton>From there, they are sent down to earth to a receiver at White Sands, New Mexico. <v Maggie Linton>They're on earth, but not for long, because, again, they're bounced back to a domestic <v Maggie Linton>satellite 22,000 miles up, which then relays them <v Maggie Linton>down to Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. <v Maggie Linton>And finally, the last leg of the trip, to the Space Telescope Science Institute, <v Maggie Linton>30 miles away. <v Maggie Linton>We're here at the Space Telescope Science Institute, where computers put the HST <v Maggie Linton>images back together. Right now, we still have a bunch of coded <v Maggie Linton>electronic signals stored in these computers. <v Maggie Linton>How do we finally get to see what the HST has already seen? <v Maggie Linton>We reverse the process. <v Maggie Linton>We convert electronic impulses into an image.
<v Maggie Linton>The Science Institute's computers can tell from the number of values coded on each pixel <v Maggie Linton>just how light or dark it should be and where it's located in the picture. <v Maggie Linton>Here we see computers put pieces of the HST picture back together <v Maggie Linton>into a facsimile of its original image. <v Maggie Linton>The image can then be displayed on a computer screen, printed out <v Maggie Linton>as a glossy photograph, or made into a slide. <v Maggie Linton>For color images, the Science Institute's computers direct the HST <v Maggie Linton>to send pixels back through colored filters. <v Maggie Linton>These three images are sent separately to the Science Institute, where they are blended <v Maggie Linton>back into their original colors. <v Maggie Linton>What starts out as a reflection of the cosmos in the HST's cameras comes <v Maggie Linton>back to Earth in radio waves as digital electronic pulses. <v Maggie Linton>At the Space Telescope Science Institute, computers and scientists <v Maggie Linton>reconstruct those pulses into images that will make up one of the greatest scrapbooks
<v Maggie Linton>of our time. <v Maggie Linton>David Soderblom is Chief of the Research Support Division with the Space <v Maggie Linton>Telescope Science Institute, and he considers his division the bucket <v Maggie Linton>at the end of the pipeline. By receiving and then analyzing the data piped <v Maggie Linton>back to Earth from HST, people like David can provide the latest information <v Maggie Linton>to astronomers. We asked David to analyze his job as one <v Maggie Linton>of the people behind HST. <v David Soderblom>One of the things I recall from childhood--must have been ten or twelve years old--and <v David Soderblom>this was back when we sent one of the first probes to Mars, sent back pictures, <v David Soderblom>and it was just marvelous, awe-inspiring that you <v David Soderblom>could send this little ball of machinery off to <v David Soderblom>another planet and get back a picture at all. <v David Soderblom>My deepest interest in astronomy started at the college level.
<v David Soderblom>I was an undergraduate at Berkeley and they have an astronomy major. <v David Soderblom>And from Berkeley I went to University of California, Santa Cruz, <v David Soderblom>where Lick Observatory is headquartered, and got a PhD. <v David Soderblom>I got involved there with building a instrument for the <v David Soderblom>120-inch telescope on Mt. <v David Soderblom>Hamilton, which was very interesting. <v David Soderblom>Had the aspects of both the scientific work and building real hardware, <v David Soderblom>tangible things you can get your hands on. <v David Soderblom>And only recently came seriously into space astronomy. <v David Soderblom>This division of which I'm part has elements that <v David Soderblom>provide the software, the computer programs that are used for reducing <v David Soderblom>and analyzing the data from space telescopes. <v David Soderblom>We provide the computers here that people work with to do that. <v David Soderblom>We provide the data itself that's stored in computers and made available. <v David Soderblom>And then we have a staff of people to help astronomers put all that <v David Soderblom>together.
<v David Soderblom>The astronomer comes to visit. <v David Soderblom>They sit down at the computer. <v David Soderblom>They have either gotten the data physically on a reel of tape or have access <v David Soderblom>to it directly here. And then pull up <v David Soderblom>an image, for example, on the computer and start to work on it. <v David Soderblom>Early on, I expect practically everyone who observes the space telescope <v David Soderblom>to come here for two reasons. One is that we can provide certain kinds of data, <v David Soderblom>the calibration data that they would have a difficult time getting home. <v David Soderblom>And second, they will also have access easily to expertise--the <v David Soderblom>people who are knowledgeable in the instruments, the software. <v David Soderblom>The fact that this vastly complex beast space <v David Soderblom>telescope has been put into orbit is phenomenal. <v Maggie Linton>Pictures from numbers. The idea doesn't seem so complicated anymore, does <v Maggie Linton>it? On our next show, we'll find out why stars twinkle, and Eric
<v Maggie Linton>Chaisson will unveil the latest surprise from the HST. <v Maggie Linton>Our special guest will be Bruce Gillespie, a matchmaker who arranges <v Maggie Linton>dates for astronomers with the HST. <v Maggie Linton>I'm Maggie Linton. See you next time on Starfinder. <v Announcer>Starfinder has been made possible in part by grants from the United States <v Announcer>Department of Education. <v Announcer>And the Martin Marietta Corporation, dedicated to helping unlock the
Episode Number
No. 2
Pictures From Numbers
Producing Organization
Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting
Contributing Organization
Maryland Public Television (Owings Mills, Maryland)
The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia (Athens, Georgia)
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Episode Description
Episode Two in the series, 'Picture from Numbers,' describes the flow of data from the stars to earth, emphasizing the transferring of an image by a camera onto a computer screen on earth. Also contained in the episode is a Hubble update with Dr. Eric Chaisson, who presents the first image ever captured by the giant space telescope. And the episode's career profile spotlights David Soderblom, Chief of the Research Support Branch at the Space Telescope Science Institute. The STARFINDER program merits Peabody consideration for its ability to motivate, educate and inspire our nation's high school students to take an active role in science. The series compellably demonstrates the need for everyone to be science literate. Students will be attracted to the program by the varied approaches to science concepts, demonstration, simulations, animation and high tech graphics used in the series. This inquiry method of presentation will encourage divergent thinking skills on the part of the students. And the wide spectrum of careers profiled will sensitize teens to possible careers in the sciences.
Series Description
"The STARFINDER program is a series of thirty fifteen minute telelessons designed to teach earth and physical science concepts to middle and high school students. Using the Hubble Space Telescope and the excitement of new scientific findings, the series covers topics such as mass, gravity, motion, evolution of stars and cosmology. Each program in the series features three instructional components: 'A View from the Hubble Space Telescope,' a detailed look at new astronomical discoveries; 'Science Links,' an introduction to a related earth or physics concept; and 'People Behind the HST,' a career profile segment. "The STARFINDER series can serve to motivate students to ponder the wonders of science and follow through with experiments on the fundamental nature of the universe."--1990 Peabody Awards entry form.
Emphasizes the transfer of an image by the Hubble camera onto a screen on earth.
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Presenter: Maryland Public Television
Producing Organization: Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting
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Maryland Public Television
Identifier: cpb-aacip-6eaab662a59 (Filename)
Format: 1 inch videotape
Generation: Original
Duration: 00:15:00
The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia
Identifier: cpb-aacip-ad43a1ccd63 (Filename)
Format: U-matic
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Chicago: “Starfinder; No. 2; Pictures From Numbers,” 1990-10-10, Maryland Public Television, The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 26, 2022,
MLA: “Starfinder; No. 2; Pictures From Numbers.” 1990-10-10. Maryland Public Television, The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 26, 2022. <>.
APA: Starfinder; No. 2; Pictures From Numbers. Boston, MA: Maryland Public Television, The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from