Fake astronomical images

Forums General Discussion Fake astronomical images

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    Nick James

    At Winchester last Sunday afternoon we had a very interesting talk on the number of fake astronomy/space images circulating on the internet. These images are often picked up by media and the general public who are unable to discriminate between “real” and “imaginary”.

    As an Association we have to be very careful not to encourage this. There is a very fine line between a pretty composite astronomical image and a fake. A good example of this is yesterday’s TLE where a number of the images that I have seen are clearly composites but not stated as such by the imager.

    Clearly, astronomincal images are often highly processed but where should we draw the line? What do other people think about this?



    Gary Poyner

    The most surprising thing about this is the amount of these ‘fakes’ which appear on APOD (which I hardly ever look at by the way).  My daughter sends me images from APOD and other sources saying “have you seen this?”.  I have to deflate her somewhat and say it’s a fake.  I just don’t get it.


    Jeremy Shears

    I don’t see a fundamental problem with composites so long as they are identified as such. People have done that with conventional photography for years. The issue is that in many cases they are not identified as such or are deliberately passed off as “real”. However, it is gratifying to see that with a bit of astronomical experience the brain can often tell immediately that “something is not right” – that’s fine for those of us who have been around for a bit, but not good for beginners, let alone the general public.

    The biggest irritation I have is that with some many wonderful sights in the night sky, why bother to fake a picture?

    Over-processed images are another matter. But what is acceptable is often in the eye of the beholder, even for “normal” astroimages. Colour selection is another matter – I, for example, am not so keen on the Hubble palette for colour images. To me it feels harsh and unreal – but what is real in terms of images that the eye cannot see in colour anyway?

    Go well!





    I  agree about the Hubble Palette. I have never liked the way it’s used to enhance digital images.  I am not a fan of Pixinsight software ether.

    I have seen to many times, images that are very good, and took time and effort to capture. Spoilt by over processing, and sharpening. 

    I think most people want a pretty pictuer at the end off the day. But I’d rather see a more natural looking image that has valuable information added. 



    Dominic Ford

    When we were talking about this at the Winchester weekend, someone raised the question of what images Astronomy Picture of the Day should or shouldn’t use.

    I think yesterday’s image is a rather unfortunate example: <http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140419.html>.

    Of course, any astronomer knows this is an artist’s impression. And the discovery of this exoplanet is a big news story that NASA will have wanted to cover. So perhaps with suitable warnings attached, it was reasonable for NASA to choose this (wildly speculative) artist’s impression.

    But the general public does not know this isn’t a real observation. Most media outlets were well-behaved in making very clear that this image isn’t to be taken too seriously, so it seems extremely unfortunate that NASA say nothing at all.

    Hazel McGee

    Yes, this is a most unfortunate image despite being a superb and evocative picture. The simple words ‘artist’s impression’ don’t appear at all, NASA really should know better.

    As we all know, the media have a lot to answer for. My somewhat poorly informed, Daily Mail reading neighbour was all excited the other day, “had I seen the new planet, it’s got water on it”. To start with I thought he meant Enceladus with its subsurface ocean, but eventually decided it must have been the Kepler planet which caught his interest.  But had I seen it?  Err, no, actually.



    Alex Pratt


    I can’t find the ‘Writing for the Journal’ guidance notes on the new website.

    Is the link staring at me and I can’t see it, or are the notes being rewritten and will be made available in the near future?

    Clear skies,


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