Stars of the show: Celebrating the beauty of the night sky

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The night sky has been inspiring artists for centuries. Now scientists are celebrating its beauty. Tim Walker discovers how they captured the magic of the heavens

As long ago as 1054 AD, Chinese and Arabic astronomers looked up to see an unfamiliar star exploding in the constellation of Taurus, 6,000 light years from Earth. Without telescopes, the scientists tracked the star's progress and recorded their findings with great accuracy. Almost a millennium later, that blooming supernova, the Crab Nebula, is still exploding. Photographed by Nasa in 2001, the dying star does indeed resemble some mysterious sea creature.

The image appears in a new exhibition of stunning astrophotography organised by the Science Photo Library (SPL), as part of 2009's International Year of Astronomy, From Earth to the Universe – which opens at the Albert Dock in Liverpool on Saturday. Next year, the organisers hope, the images will be displayed in public spaces around the world.

"The pictures were primarily chosen for their aesthetic appeal," explains the curator, Gary Evans. "But we also chose things with a scientific story to tell. If people say, 'Wow, that's cool,' we've done our job. If they say 'Wow, I wonder what it is?' then that's even better."

A variety of techniques produced the images. A composite image of Earth was generated with satellite data, merging images of surface cover, cloud cover and city lights to create a striking "blue marble" portrait.

One image from the Hubble telescope, says Evans, was taken the last time a new camera was fitted. Scientists trained the lens on an area of sky with the least stars foregrounded to look far into deep space. They exposed a single frame for almost 12 days and found objects as far as 13 billion light years away.

Not all the exhibition photos boast such a sophisticated genesis, however. One time-lapse shot, tracking the movement of Venus across the Sun, was taken by Eckhard Slawik in Waldenburg, Germany, using little more than a home telescope and a digital camera.

To purchase copies of any of the exhibition images go to www.sciencephoto.com

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'