BABloggee saves Hubble!

By Phil Plait | June 11, 2008 2:15 pm

Well, kinda. Yesterday I posted about the new Hubble release of the Coma cluster. In the comments, Powerdroid wrote that he noticed that a pair of galaxies appeared to be repeated in the image, like a cosmic echo. It looked like an imaging mistake to me, but to make sure, I contacted my old bud Zolt Levay, who puts together most if not all of the incredible Hubble images you have seen over the past 15+ years.

The Hubble Coma cluster image with the echoed object indicated.

He wrote me back and told me that this was indeed an error; a problem that occurred while cleaning up all the images that were put together to make the big mosaic. Hubble imaging expert Lisa Frattare fixed the problem, and put the cleaned images back on the Hubble site.

Never doubt the power of the blogosphere. We can even change the heavens themselves. My congrats to Powerdroid for keenly spotting the problem. That’s very cool.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff

Comments (19)

Links to this Post

  1. Nog even over die foto van de ComaclusterbijAstroblogs | June 12, 2008
  1. Not Sure
  2. swede

    For a while there i actually thought some random internet dude commenting on your blog had made a multi-billion dollar donation to keep Hubble running for a few more years.. but i guess this is cool too.. ūüėČ

  3. DennyMo

    OK, I gotta ask: Let’s assume this error had gone undetected. What kind of errant observations and conclusions would scientists made from such an image processing error? How common are such errors? And how many faulty conclusions/observations/announcements have been made as a result? Have any retractions been necessitated by finding the error afterwards?

    These questions are sort of rhetorical, but this situation demonstrates why I sometimes get uncomfortable with the reliance on “computer enhanced imagery” and computational models. Is it possible we’ve enhanced and simulated ourselves into a totally wrong understanding of the universe?

  4. Tim G

    Way to go Powerdroid!

  5. Sili

    Bah! This just proves that NASA doctors all their pictures to hide our alien overlords.

  6. Wow… Behold the power of the blogosphere, indeed. And behold the power of the Bad Astronomer’s faithful readers!

  7. Nicole

    I don’t know DannyMo, but that sort of thing does always make me hesitate when I first present something I’ve done as if “OMG what if I made a mistake! What if what if what if…?”

    But analysis of data for publication is also more closely combed, I would think, by the researcher than an image for the press. Also, there’s a reviewer combing over your stuff, too, not to mention collaborators. It helps mitigate mistakes. Also, when something is not repeatable or observable by other teams, that is a good hint that there is a mistake! I don’t think we can mistake ourselves into a wrong version of the universe, for the universe will correct us. If *anything* at all, the limited understanding that a human brain brings to the problem is the bias that I would worry about.

  8. DannyMo, there probably wouldn’t have been any scientific impact. Usually, scientists put together the images separately from the outreach folks. Also, someone would have caught it sooner or later. :-)

  9. Darth Robo

    Odd that a power droid spotted the mistake and not an astro-droid.


    Gonk, indeed.

  10. HvP

    Also, for something to be taken on board as legitimate science it has to be confirmed from multiple observations, and for the big stuff (dark matter, big bang, etc) by different platforms.

  11. Petunia

    Looks like my cat’s face.

  12. Powerdroid

    Holy smokes!
    Thank you all for the generous praise. I must admit, though, I was hoping it was a real phenomenon. Maybe, y’know, a cloaked ship between here and there.

    I’m glad I could contribute.


  13. Powerdroid

    By the way, what do I win?
    Besides the satisfaction and respect, I mean.



  14. The different Hubble photo’s that were used to be combined into that one mosaic can be seen on a photoshop version of the Comacluster. See a blog about it here: OK, it’s in Dutch, but never mind, it’s about the photo.

  15. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Powerdroid for the win!

    Um, the prize? How about a spare accumulator?

    Or – perhaps Phil can fix a Doctor Who droid cameo? Wouldn’t that be cool?

  16. A woman looking at Galaxy Zoo images had a question about something strange. It’s now a new subject for research.

    Many eyes make light work.

    And from a lightbulb joke:
    “It’s OK. I’ll just sit here… in the dark.”

  17. llewelly

    Never doubt the power of the blogosphere. We can even change the heavens themselves. My congrats to Powerdroid for keenly spotting the problem. That’s very cool.

    Now that’s secret. Talk an authority figure into changing the photo, and the heavens change with it. BA, this the core of a great new book for you. I bet you can flog it on Oprah when it’s finished.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar