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Space for Colour

Eagle Nebula, M 16, Messier 16

Post-processing space image


Source: NASA, ESA / Hubble und das Hubble Heritage Team (website)

(Accessed September 12, 2018)

NASA, ESA / Hubble und das Hubble Heritage Team

“This image shows the pillars as seen in visible light, capturing the multi-coloured glow of gas clouds, wispy tendrils of dark cosmic dust, and the rust-coloured elephants’ trunks of the nebula’s famous pillars.“

(Hubble Space Telescope, 2015)

In this image from Hubble Telescope, we see the “Eagle Nebula” – a young cluster of stars in the constellation Serpens with bright blues and greens swirling together in pillars of clouds. It may surprise some to learn that such images were, in fact, originally greyscale-colored and that the colors were added using color filters that illustrate the colors associated with the chemical elements in the nebula.

There is no doubt NASA and ESA/Hubble manipulated these images, but the question arises whether this form of coloring should be mentioned more prominently than is currently done. Scholarly research generally demands transparency, yet one of the largest research facilities does not state clearly that the colors do not reflect the Hubble Telescope image. Uninformed viewers may believe that by looking through a telescope, one sees these amazing and awe-inspiring sights, while the colors are actually rendered after Hubble Telescope took the greyscale image.



Adobe Corporate Communications. “How Photoshop Helps NASA Reveal the Unseeable.” Adobe Blog, September 28, 2015.

Hubble Space Telescope. “New View of the Pillars of Creation – Visible.“ ESA, January 05, 2015.

Hubblesite. “Images.ˮ Accessed August 29, 2018.

Orwig, Jessica. “Iconic Hubble Images Are Actually Black-And-White.” Business Insider, March 19, 2015.

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