Aesthetics & Astronomy

Here at the Chandra X-ray Center, we work hard to make the images that you find on the public website. No, there’s no magic button that we push to make pretty pictures. In fact, there are countless keystrokes, mouse movements, and lots of thinking that go into these images of the cosmos that are fit for public consumption.

If you are a frequent visitor to the Chandra website, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that we often pair Chandra’s X-rays with data from other telescopes. That’s because if there’s a theme for modern astronomy, it’s that it is multi-wavelength. More often than not, it takes more than one telescope to tell a science story and we reflect that in the images we produce for the website.

M51 (a.k.a. the Whirlpool Galaxy) in X-ray, Optical, UV and Infrared light.

In order to gauge how successful we’ve been at doing this, we have initiated a survey that will study how people – experts and non-experts – perceive multi-wavelength astronomical images. We’ll also look at how the choices we make, both artistically and scientifically, affect what people take away from the images.

The images will come from (obviously) Chandra, but also Hubble, Spitzer, the Very Large Array, Hinode and many other space-based observatories as well as telescopes on the ground. Once we gather all of the data, we’ll evaluate it to see what works best and how it might help with improving not only images in astronomy, but also other scientific disciplines. If you are interested in learning more about this survey, dubbed the “Astronomy & Aesthetics” project, visit

-Kim Arcand & Megan Watzke, CXC

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