In October, Fr. James Kurzynski did a post entitled Sacred Art: Enjoying The Splendor Of Creation Through The Eyes Of Hubble, featuring several really nice images from the Hubble Space Telescope. Bob Prokop added this comment to Fr. James’s post:
Although like everyone else, I love looking at Hubble images, they can often be a stumbling block to young people thinking about getting into amateur astronomy. They all too often expect to see such vistas in the eyepiece, and walk away crushed when they realize the human eye can see no such thing. Most galaxies are (at best) indistinct gray smudges, which may need averted vision to see at all. And nearly every nebula is altogether invisible outside of photographic images.
My local club, the Howard Astronomical League, conducts numerous public outreach events during the year, and I always caution people who have never looked through a telescope to not expect the brilliant colors and fantastic detail of Hubble imagery before I let them take a look at things like the Andromeda Galaxy or the Lagoon Nebula.
This is a good point. Coincidentally, prior to reading this post I had just been talking to my students about how nebulae and galaxies actually appear, in contrast to what photographs of them show. To convey the true appearance of these objects, I recommend the use of sketches made by astronomer-artists (such as The Catholic Astronomer’s own Deirdre Kelleghan!). So, below I have taken the images Fr. James used, and put them into composites that include two sketches of each object. The use of sketches can give a better idea of what to expect when viewing these objects through the telescope.
By the way, the sketches show these objects’ true appearances. If you flew in a space ship to a point where the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51) filled your viewport, for example, it would not look like the blaze of color seen in the Hubble photo. It would look like the sketches. Want to see what a galaxy looks like close-up? Just go outside and look at the Milky Way galaxy in the night sky. It is incredibly beautiful and arches from horizon to horizon, but it is faint. You can’t even see the Milky Way unless you are under dark skies, away from light pollution. And, even under dark skies, it is low on color.