July 5, 2015


Why your smartphone takes better photographs than the Hubble space telescope (Monica Grady, 5 July 2015, The Guardian)

For those who keep up with the latest developments in space exploration, the last couple of years have offered a rich feast of images: from close-up pictures of water-worn pebbles on the surface of Mars to the views of galaxies at the edge of the visible universe, by way of the cratered surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. We are becoming almost blase with the seemingly daily occurrence of a fresh view of a star or planet.

Back on Earth, we are also no longer amazed by the instant communication of social media or the ability to watch films in high definition on our smartphones. Rather, we tend to complain if our mobile signal drops out when going through a tunnel on a train journey or the internet speed slows because it can't cope with the 10GB film you are streaming at the same time your kids are playing an online fantasy game ported through a server some thousand miles away. The latest developments in hi-tech communications incorporate 64bit architecture, 1GB RAM, 1.4 GHz speed, 20 megapixel cameras and so on. How does all this relate to the wonderful images produced by space instruments?

Looking at the technical specifications for the camera on the Hubble space telescope (HST), you are immediately in a different world. One of 16bit architecture. One of 48k memory and a speed of 1.25MHz. How antiquated! How ancient! How slow! How does the HST manage to produce anything at all? How come it isn't using the latest technology?

Posted by at July 5, 2015 6:33 AM

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