Astronomers often turn to NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope when they fancy observing any of the plethora of distant nebulae in outer space. Nebulae are astoundingly large accumulations of dust and gas, sometimes spanning tens to thousands of light-years across. Moreover, most of Hubble’s nebulae images depict a saturated collection of colorful clouds.
Nebulae appear incredibly beautiful in these scientific images, but these images don’t necessarily depict them accurately. Hubble makes most of its observations in the visible light spectrum, but some of its observations are conducted in the infrared and ultraviolet ranges with the help of special photographic filters. For this reason, some nebulae images may appear more colorful when photographed with Hubble than they would with the naked eye.
Another particularly interesting fact is that nebulae aren’t necessarily as creamy and condensed as they appear in images. The sheer scale of these massive astronomical objects is often lost when photographed from such a distance. In fact, the particles in a nebula are so diffused that one might only exhibit between 10-100 particles per cubic centimeter – that’s significantly less than even the best of vacuum chambers can replicate, and it compares to 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 particles per cubic centimeter at sea level on Earth.
As it turns out, space telescope imagery exaggerates the appearance of nebulae significantly, but not necessarily for the purpose of being misleading. Instead, scientists utilize the extra visibility of the infrared and ultraviolet light spectrums to discern matter that would otherwise be invisible. With the help of this added visibility, we can make more accurate assumptions about the universe around us.