It's a match made in the heavens -- the Planetary Society is joining forces with UnmannedSpaceflight.com (UMSF) to provide financial support for the renowned amateur space imaging website. The Planetary Society will host a gallery of amateur-processed photos.
"The folks at unmannedspaceflight.com set the gold -- no, plutonium -- standard for beautiful and inspirational planetary imaging work among the amateur/enthusiast community, and it will be great to have their organization more closely aligned with all of us in the Planetary Society who share their passion!" said Jim Bell, President of the Planetary Society.
To amateurs, the images are photos returned from interplanetary voyages. So the goal of space image processing is to produce inspiring and accurate views of other worlds as they might appear to human voyagers, a window to alien vistas.
"Like artists releasing the sculpture from the stone, these amateur image processors refine and polish the data, creating brilliant gems for us all to enjoy. From the intricate whorls of Jupiter's Great Red Spot to the icy beauty of Saturn's rings, the results are amazing," said Bill Nye, Executive Director of the Planetary Society.
AmateurSpaceImages.com will be a dedicated online gallery where image-processors can share their space-mission images. Anyone can upload images, but a moderation team from UnmannedSpaceflight.com will approve what is placed in the gallery to maintain a high standard.
Amateurs can breathe new life into old data. Only a tiny fraction of spacecraft image data is processed into pictures released to the public, and once a mission's funding has expired, that usually ends the release of images. But the vast majority of image data accumulated from the dozens of interplanetary missions is freely available online, and an increasing number of people are processing that older data into new views of planets and moons in our solar system.
"These amateurs dive into neglected planetary science data archives and surface with views of other worlds that few people have ever seen before. The images that they create show us how alien landscapes would appear to the eyes of human explorers, allowing us to ride along with our robotic voyagers to the distant reaches of the solar system," said Emily Lakdawalla, Science and Technology Coordinator and blogger for the Planetary Society. Emily has been one of the administrators of UnmannedSpaceflight.com since 2005 and is well-known for her own image processing.
Sometimes amateurs may take liberties with image data, though they typically strive to stay as true to the data as possible. They may paint out data gaps or cosmic ray hits; artificially colorize images; or perform other image manipulation tricks to improve the appearance of an image. Their purpose is to create visually stunning views of distant worlds, allowing others to share the adventure of planetary exploration.
"By sharing images and other data with the public in the way pioneered by Steve Squyres, Jim Bell and the Mars Exploration Rover team in 2004, missions have eliminated the choke-point between spacecraft and the public. Given the opportunity, enthusiastic amateurs process images and create mosaics, maps, movies, and 3D views that, in turn, inspire everything from posters to poetry," said Doug Ellison, founder of UnmannedSpaceflight.com.
UnmannedSpaceflight.com was created in 2004 as a place where space-imaging enthusiasts could meet to exchange their work on the images returned by robotic spacecraft.