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Teaching Physics Blog

AP Physics:Exploring Light and Color with Hubble

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Learning Objectives
Students will be able to demonstrate their understanding of color addition by creating a color image using three monochromatic Hubble Space Telescope images.

Activity Type
This activity is best used as an introductory project to activate student enthusiasm for learning about light and color. The project instructions will guide students through the process of creating a color astronomical image, which involves principles of color addition for light. 

Assignment Details
  • Visit the project homepage at: http://www.usatodayeducation.com/universe/
  • Go to Activity 6 and read the introductory instructions.
  • Work through Step 1 of the activity to learn the basics of using ImageJ to view astronomical images.
  • Complete Step 2 of the project to create your own version of the iconic Hubble image, "Pillars of Creation."
  • In Step 3, choose an astronomical object of interest to you and try to create a true color image that accurately depicts the object. Save your final image as a JPEG.
  • Write a paragraph describing the images that you created and how the principle of color addition is evident in your final product. Be sure to explain why you are confident that this image reflects a 'true color' view of the object.
  • Submit your image and your paragraph to your instructor
    Instructor's Notes
    • Consider using activities 1 through 5 of the "Color the Universe" project as an enjoyable break from the usual preparations for the AP exam. Activities 1, 3, and 5 may be of particular interest to high school physics students.
    • A true color image is one where red, green, and blue color is assigned to images that capture only those wavelengths of light. The HST image files have the central wavelength of light capture by the picture specified in the file name. 
    • Most of the iconic HST images we see are not actually true color images. Scientists create their images to illustrate the many different features and subtleties of an object, but this may be misleading to the general public. The topic of whether or not this is deceptive could make for an interesting class discussion after the project is completed. 
    • After creating a true color image, students should be encouraged to try making color pictures using the other HST data sets and explore with various combinations of the astronomical images.

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