Best Astronomical Images on the Web
By Andrew Fraknoi (Foothill College)
Version 3.1 (February 2010)
One of the best things about astronomy these days is the abundance of fabulous images, both from telescopes on the ground and our many instruments in space. Many of these images were produced with government funds and are not under copyright. Others are from university and nonprofit observatories, which often have liberal policies when it comes to educational uses. And, with the growth of digital photography and the decreasing cost of hobbyist telescopes, many amateur astronomers are also making remarkable images of the deep sky. The list below is not comprehensive, but will introduce some of our favorite image archives.
1. The Top Image Sites
Two space scientists scour the internet and select one “sexy” astronomy image to feature each day. Their archives range widely, from traditional astronomical objects to space history, and have also been organized by subject. The search function works quite well for finding something specific among 11 years’ worth of daily images.
Starting at this page, you can select among hundreds of Hubble pictures by subject or by date. Note that many of the images have supporting pictures with them, such as diagrams, animations, comparisons, etc. Excellent captions and background information are provided. Other ways to approach these images are through the more public-oriented Hubble Gallery: http://hubblesite.org/gallery/ and the European home page: http://www.spacetelescope.org/images/index.html
This growing archive shows images taken with the many telescopes that are part of the National Optical Astronomy Observatories. There are many objects pictured that are not available anywhere else. The gallery is organized by topic. An intriguing newer section highlights nice images taken in the Advanced Observing Program for non-professional guest observers: http://www.noao.edu/outreach/aop/observers/bestof.html
This site features thousands of images from planetary exploration, with captions of varied length. You can dial up images by world, feature name, date, or catalog number, and download images in a number of popular formats. Sadly, only NASA mission images are included. Note the rich “Other Query Methods” option on the menu at the bottom of the top page.
Growing archives that include superb color images from the 4 telescopes that are being combined to make the “Very Large Telescope” in Chile. See the menu at left for approaching the gallery by topic.
The brilliant astronomical photographer David Malin and his colleagues in Australia offer some of the most beautiful ground-based color images ever taken. They are well organized, but these are all under copyright and require permission for use.
Includes beautiful images from the Herschel, Newton, and Kapteyn telescopes on La Palma. Each of the collections is nicely organized.
2. A Few Smaller Image Galleries from Professional Observatories
Some remarkable color images from a major telescope on top of the Mauna Kea peak in Hawaii.
Growing collection of images that show the universe as seen through “x-ray eyes”.
Beautiful new images from a pair of large telescopes, one in the northern, the other in the southern hemisphere.
An interesting album from Caltech/JPL, which shows the same astronomical objects in several different bands of the spectrum: visible light, infrared, x-rays, etc.
Here is where to find the great astronaut images from the different missions.
This site is a partnership between NASA and an internet organization, and presents a wide range of NASA images (not just astronomical ones). The organization is not as good as the ones in our top category, but you can search for images and many historical pictures are included. (See also the Great Images at NASA site: http://grin.hq.nasa.gov/
Organized by topic, the images show objects and processes that give off radio waves.
For many years, the 200-inch telescope atop Mt. Palomar was the largest in the world. Here are some of the historic photos from this and related observatories.
Astronomer William Keel at the University of Alabama has assembled a gallery of images and captions showing the wide range of activity in galaxies revealed by modern telescopes.
Spitzer Infrared Telescope Image Gallery:
Images from the observatory in space, showing what the universe looks like in “heat-rays,” rather than visible light.
Images from the large Japanese telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii.
3. A Few Other Galleries of Interest
Mars Express: http://www.esa.int/SPECIALS/Mars_Express/index.html
[we list this European planetary mission, because its images are not included in the Planetary Photojournal site mentioned in section 1. U.S. planetary missions have their images included and organized there]
4. Image Galleries by Selected Amateur Astronomers
The World at Night (remarkable images by professional photographers who are amateur astronomers and set out to capture the world’s landmarks set against the dark night sky): http://www.twanight.org/newTWAN/index.asp
5. Listings That Include Other Astronomical Photography Sites