NASA, and most if not all, other space agencies photoshop their images of space - but that doesn't mean their photos are fake. Cheddar explores why images of space are photoshopped, and how that helps astronomers with their job.

The methodology behind how they do it is pretty amazing.

The most important thing to remember is that these images are not fake. According to the space agencies that took them they’re just interpretations of our reality.

“Its real information in the real universe. Yes, the pictures are enhanced or altered or the colours are changed but it’s done for real scientific reasons,” said Dr. Paul Sutter, an Astrophysicist at the Ohio State University.

The images of space are not taken for beauty, but to gain information and insight about the universe around us. One reason is that these images come to us in greyscale, rather than colour.

Coloured cameras are of lower resolution than black and white cameras, which means when it comes to collecting data you would want to collect it at the highest possible resolution.

Of course, monochromatic photos aren't as visually appealing as coloured ones. It's also more difficult to grasp information in a black and white photograph. So scientists composite multiple filter photos into one image to approximate the real colour.

“We could show you charts and graphs which more scientifically useful just isn’t as interesting. So [we send] you the cool picture that led to that chart and graph,” said Sutter.

Now watch: Here's why NASA spacesuits are white

Frequently, colourisation is also used for categorisation. The human eye is limited to what it can see. But some cameras, like infrared telescopes, can pick up even more information. Scientists then assign a colour to data which is outside the visible spectrum, like wave lengths.

Colourizing can also help scientists figure out the makeup of the universe. Different elements give off different wavelengths of light. By colour categorizing elements like Hydrogen or Oxygen with a colour it helps them to differentiate what they are seeing in a picture.

Take a picture of nebula. It’s not something you would see typically with a naked eye, because the colours that have been added here are used to highlight where certain elements are, to see where they are in relation to each other, said Sutter.  

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