Hubble's Hidden Treasures: winners!

By Phil Plait | August 24, 2012 10:25 am

Earlier this year, the folks at the European Space Agency’s Hubble HQ announced a contest called Hubble’s Hidden Treasures: they wanted people to go through the massive archives of Hubble’s data and look for gorgeous objects that may have been previously overlooked.

This is a cool idea, and they got over 3000 submissions! They just announced the winners, and it’s a collection of jaw-dropping beauty. Here’s the first place winner in the "Image Processing" category, a stunner of NGC 1763, part of a massive star-forming complex in a companion galaxy to our Milky Way:

Oooo, pretty. [Click to embiggen.] That was done by Josh Lake, who won the public vote as well as the judges’ with this work.

It was also nice to see BABlog regular André vd Hoeven place in the contest as well. But I have to say, after looking over the winners, I would’ve leaned toward this shot, by Judy Schmidt:

Holy wow! You need to click that shot to see it in much higher resolution to really appreciate it. That’s XZ Tauri, a newly-born star a few hundred light years away. XZ Tau is the bright star just to the right of center. In the zoomed shot, you can see two lobes of material on either side of it; these were launched into space during a massive explosive event caught by Hubble back in 2000. The surrounding nebulosity is amazing, too, shaped by shock waves from other new stars which blast off material during paroxysms – young stars rotate rapidly, blow off huge winds, and have strong magnetic fields, which can lead to epic eruptions. They can also blast out beams of material which can travel for dozens of light years.

All the images from the contest are wonderful, and well worth your time to peruse. Funny, too: just yesterday I wrote that digital images from space have revolutionized how we do astronomy, putting the data into the hands of people who can play with it and show us things we hadn’t seen before.

I love it when a plan comes together.

Related Posts:

Newborn star makes a cosmic bank shot
Spitzer sees star spew spurious spouts
Baby stars blasting out jets of matter
A vast, cosmic cloudy brain looms in a nearby galaxy

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

Comments (18)

  1. What he said. Let me add that 6th prize went to a very active participant in Galaxy Zoo and its forum-driven science spinoffs, a retiree in France whose SQL skills utterly dwarf my own.

  2. If I read this correctly, most of these images started as several raw photos taken at different wavelengths, then processed and compiled into a single image by the people who submitted them?


  3. Chris

    I wonder what went through the researcher’s mind when they saw the original data. “Eh, nothing special.”

  4. @Chris #3 – I suspect the thought was, “This looks spectacular, but we have people clamoring for this other image, and we don’t have the time to process both right now. We’ll get to it when the priority backlog is cleared.”

  5. Indeed amazing times we live in now. Never we had so much knowledge at our hands.
    And then to see what comes out of those hands.
    Once again it shows that amateurs are real lovers of what they do.

  6. Russell

    In the first place winner photo there is that long tendril of black inky dust.

    There’s that dust again! How did space get so much dust! It looks to me that there is more dust in space than stars and planets!

    Since I have been visiting BA I have been getting more and more curious about this dust and gas floating around than anything else.

    Is there a science of studying just all this dust? Are there people who study this stuff and nothing else? A “dustronomer ” ?

  7. Does NGC 1763 have a cool name? I would easily call it the Seahorse Nebula (if there isn’t one already).

  8. Fry-kun

    Looks like these could’ve been found by a computer, simply by scanning all images for the infamous orange/blue contrast ( :)

  9. fanty

    I always prefer when the people rendering these images go for the pink-blue contrast. It looks less cliché, and pink is a nice colour.

  10. Fry-kun: They aren’t literally just found. It takes a lot of work to prettify them. Check out the data I worked with

    …And now that this particular image is in the spotlight I am feeling super self-conscious, thinking I could have done it a little better! I better leave it as it is, though. People seem to like it enough.

    Congratulations to everyone in the contest. I’m super happy for Andre, too. He gave me a few pointers early on when I was first learning over at Starship Asterisk.

  11. Renaud Houdinet

    @Chris #3 – I can think of a few reasons why some of the data has or had not been processed into pretty looking pictures before:

    – Possibly the primary reason is that the Hubble Space Telescope has been operating for many many years now. Many of the contributions to the contest were stitched up together from different observation programmes years apart, through different generations of instruments (For instance: the M77 picture that finished 2nd uses data from three observation programmes in 1995 & 2003).

    – Some contributions were made using data from other observatories (for instance this magnificent contribution by Andre van der Hoeven couldn’t have been processed in colour from HST data alone :

    – Some of the data requires a lot of tricky processing and it may not be so obvious at first glance that something visually interesting and ‘clean’ can be produced. Optical artefacts, cosmic rays, low signal, noise, gaps between cameras and other imperfections are common.

    Truth be told though, the people who normally process data from the HST into images for the public have been quite thorough, it has been difficult to find suitable data that hadn’t been already processed and published before on the Hubble sites. A large number of contributions to the contest were in fact very similar to pictures released previously (possibly unbeknown to the contributor, I myself processed data out of contest only to find out once I was done that a nearly identical image had been published on

  12. Renaud Houdinet


    NGC1763 has been nicknamed the “bean nebula” (see here why:, but the winner of the contest is of an adjacent region, which appears to be part of nearby NGC1769. Both of which I understand are part of the LHA 120-N 11 complex (along with other ‘objects’ in the NGC catalogue). It’s a rich region of the Large Magellanic Cloud.

  13. JJ

    I hate to be the “devils advocate” here but what’s the point with faking colors and then say “oh, wow, universe is soo coloful and amazing” ! All the colors are fake or extremely exaggerated, some even to the point they actually look like paintings. I hope one day we will have sophisticated equipment to “see” objets like they would if we looked at them with our eyes in a spaceship, but I guess that may not even be possible because of how light is distorted before it reaches us. But I honestly think it’s somewhat ridiclous how everyone seem to fall for these basically fake images.

  14. Messier Tidy Upper

    Superbly splendid and marvellous images. Hidden treasures – but no longer concealed away from our collective eyes – indeed! :-)

  15. @6. Russell :

    There’s that dust again! How did space get so much dust! It looks to me that there is more dust in space than stars and planets!

    Well, if you count dust grain by dust grain versus numbers of stars and planets and considering that stars and planets – or at least asteroids and comets *produce* interstellar dust – then, well you’d be counting an awful loo-ong time! 😉

    Technically, I guess the thing there’s most of in space is .. space there’s an awful lot of it! 😉
    (Stealing that line from a cheesy action movie memory serving.)

    Given hydrogen and helium are the most abundant elements I’d guess there’s more gas clouds than anything other than space and maybe quantum foam but I Am Not A Cosmologist or astrochemist so, dunno for sure.

    Unless I’m mistaken (which is always possible) the dust tends to accumulate and pile up in certain regions – galaxies largest dustbunnies anyone – hence the nebulae and eventually get incorporated into new stars and worlds. As Carl Sagan famously said : “We are stardust” ourselves just geologically and then biochemically altered over vast spans of time.

    Since I have been visiting BA I have been getting more and more curiou
    s about this dust and gas floating around than anything else. Is there a science of studying just all this dust? Are there people who study this stuff and nothing else? A “dustronomer ” ?

    Since these commonly take the form of dark obscuring dust clouds or dark nebulae maybe “nebulositer” would be the term? Although that would put them under a bit of a cloud! 😉

  16. Josh Lake

    Hey, all, I just wanted to check in and say thanks for checking out the contest. While I’m not a regular commenter like André or Mary, this blog is certainly on my daily reading list!

  17. Hi Josh, Renaud and Judy,

    Also congratulations to all of you. I think we all together gathered some very nice imagery which is shared with the whole world now.

    Judy: it was nice cooperating on asterisk. I really enjoyed it a lot …

    Josh: What a great image! I really like it. Nice coincidence that I noticed that you are a teacher too. I’m myself a physics teacher and also give astronomy in high-school. It’s a perfect topic to interest the youth for science I think….

    Renaud: That’s a great job you did on mosaicing there… Pitty Hubble doesn’t cover it completely…



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