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Headshot of Emily Lakdawalla

NASA Space Apps Challenge: Women hacking space image data

Posted By Emily Lakdawalla

22-04-2016 12:19 CDT

Topics: amateur image processing, personal stories, explaining image processing

Today I'm participating in a program called the International @SpaceApps Women in Data Bootcamp. The NASA Space Apps Challenge is an annual weekend hackathon working to inspire "citizen teamwork for positive change across every skill level and discipline;" the Data Bootcamp is a pre-Challenge event intended to increase the participation of women and girls in hackathons. Below is a recording of the live stream. (You can skip directly to my part at about 1:44:50 if you want, but there were a lot of great presentations that were worth watching.)

I'm presenting a brief talk highlighting the way that my personal discovery of NASA's image data archives shaped my path into public communication about science, and briefly showcasing three other women who do amazing work with public image data.

You can find all the images that I've processed here, and various writing on spacecraft image processing here. Below is an example of the kind of work I like to do, mixing amateur-processed images of a variety of worlds of our solar system to help provide people with perspective on the worlds we're exploring:

All asteroids and comets visited by spacecraft as of August 2014, in color, albedo linearly scaled

Montage by Emily Lakdawalla. Ida, Dactyl, Braille, Annefrank, Gaspra, Borrelly: NASA / JPL / Ted Stryk. Steins: ESA / OSIRIS team. Eros: NASA / JHUAPL. Itokawa: ISAS / JAXA / Emily Lakdawalla. Mathilde: NASA / JHUAPL / Ted Stryk. Lutetia: ESA / OSIRIS team / Emily Lakdawalla. Halley: Russian Academy of Sciences / Ted Stryk. Tempel 1, Hartley 2: NASA / JPL / UMD. Wild 2: NASA / JPL.

All asteroids and comets visited by spacecraft as of August 2014, in color, albedo linearly scaled

In my presentation I also featured Elisabetta Bonora, who is an Italian science blogger and image processor. She writes about space image processing at My favorite recent work of hers is this mosaic of Enceladus in front of Saturn from Cassini. Like me, she plays with data from all space missions, enjoying the variety of robotic spacecraft.

Enceladus and Saturn

NASA / JPL / SSI / Elisabetta Bonora & Marco Faccin

Enceladus and Saturn
Cassini captured the images for this striking crescent Enceladus on December 19, 2015.

Other women I featured tend to focus on worlds of particular interest to them personally. Val Klavans is particularly interested in Saturn's moon Titan; she is active on Twitter as Titan Saturn's Moon, and is a producer of the upcoming film "In Saturn's Rings." Here, she shows us how Cassini can see Titan in different ways with different wavelengths of light.

Above and below Titan's atmosphere

NASA / JPL / SSI / composite and editing by Val Klavans

Above and below Titan's atmosphere
On the left is a true color image of Titan. The moon's north polar hood is visible in this view. The image on the right is a representation of what it would look like if you could see past Titan's atmosphere and down to its surface. The darker areas are vast hydrocarbon sand dunes and seas.

Finally, I featured Damia Bouic, who has processed rover panoramic images into breathtaking scenery since Spirit and Opportunity landed on Mars, and has continued with Curiosity. As a professional photographer, she is particularly interested in lighting and composition, as with this dramatic late-afternoon view of Gale crater, which she produced by colorizing black-and-white data.

Late afternoon in Gale Crater, Curiosity sol 49

NASA / JPL / MSSS / Damia Bouic

Late afternoon in Gale Crater, Curiosity sol 49
As the Sun set on sol 49 (September 25, 2012), Curiosity used its Navigation Camera to take a panoramic view of the dramatically lit landscape. In this version, Damia Bouic has colorized the grayscale Navcam data with color thumbnails from a Mastcam panorama taken under higher sun conditions.

If you'd like to begin to explore working with space image data for yourself, I recommend checking out the space image processing tutorials I've written, my blog entries about space image processing, and the following sources of raw spacecraft image data:

See other posts from April 2016


Read more blog entries about: amateur image processing, personal stories, explaining image processing


Tim: 04/23/2016 09:43 CDT

I'm all for initiatives to increase the participation of women and girls in STEM subjects so this is good news. One of my annoyances is the way in which women's contribution to science in general, and astronomy in particular, has been under-recorded and unappreciated. For example, just look at the significant contributions that Adelaide Ames, Vera Rubin and Henrietta Swan Leavitt (who opened the way to Edwin Hubble's work in respect of the Andromeda Galaxy) have made to the science of astronomy. There have been instances, such as the cases of Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin (denied a degree) and Jocelyn Bell Burnell (not included in a Nobel citation), where female astronomers were treated in a truly appalling way and I regard as being completely unacceptable.

Rm: 04/26/2016 09:28 CDT

Keep telling stories! I've enjoyed everything I've ever seen you present. Thank You.

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