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October 13th, 2006 - Visualizing Science
Seeing Science in Everyday Life

Date: Friday, October 13th, 2006, at 01:01
Subject: Little Day-Glo Orange Spot
Security: Public
Location:New York, New York
Music:Scissor Sisters
Tags:color enhanced, hubble, true color

The above Hubble image, released back in April, is in the news again because the origin of the so-called “Little Red Spot” seems to be “the only survivor among three white-colored storms that merged together” in the last decade, resulting in a ruddy storm with wind speeds that rival its Great Red Sibling.

But I find this image slightly disturbing. The almost radioactive, day-glo red of the two spots (and excessive blue of the normally white bands) deserves greater attention than it receives in the picture’s caption. All we learn is that “two filters are shown in red/orange (F892N, near-IR strong methane band) and blue/cyan (F502N continuum/cyan light),” which I find less than satisfying. Is that “red/orange” and “blue/cyan” on top of a “true-color” image? I take it to be the case, but the verbiage leaves me guessing. (Certainly when you compare the above to another Hubble image of the same part of Jupiter, taken around the same time, the colors are quite different.)

This is a good place to spend a little time, in my opinion, explaining a bit of process. Mention something about “particular wavelengths of light” or “enhanced color” or something. Make it clear that we’re not seeing Jupiter as it would appear were one to put one’s eye up to Hubble’s eyepiece.

(Um, just in case… That last line was a joke. Hubble has no eyepiece. It’s in space. For more info on how Hubble images are made, please read the lovely “Behind the Pictures” page at the Hubble website.)
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Date: Friday, October 13th, 2006, at 08:21
Subject: Before There Were Sponges
Security: Public
Location:New York, New York
Tags:cell structure, fossils, metazoans, tomography

I lifted the above image from an article in today’s issue of Science, which you probably can’t read unless you’re logged in from a subscribing institution. That’s okay: take a look at the Reuters article instead, although it doesn’t have any accompanying pictures.

Which is too bad, because however abstract, I think the above image (depicting results of x-ray tomography on the specimen) communicates its ideas fairly clearly.

The caption in the Science article reads as follows… “Aberrant embryos. (A) Reflected-light photomicrograph of a 3-cell embryo (specimen DOU-25). (B) Exterior isosurface model. (C) Volume rendered and extracted cell models, with the left cell rendered transparent to show the only subcellular structure (shaded green) in this embryo.” Admittedly, you might want to rewrite that before putting it in a press release: “(A) Here’s a photo. (B) We can reconstruct what’s inside. (C) We can even figure out its constituent parts—going so far as to see inside the fossilized cells to see their interior structure.” Something like that.

Of further interest is a punchline that appears in the scientific publication but not in the popular re-interpretation. The very last sentence reads, “the combined observations suggest that the Doushantuo embryos are probably stem-group metazoans.” Which, translated from biologiese, means that these cells are precursors to metazoans—i.e., further down the trunk of the family tree that led to us. Such humble beginnings…
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