The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), NASA, and the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) are collaborating on the "Capture the Colorful Cosmos" astrophotography project. This program will give members of the public online access to the CfA’s MicroObservatory robotic telescopes, to take and colorize their own images of stars and galaxies the same way that professional astronomers do. Participating museums, nature centers, libraries, and other informal education organizations will run public workshops that result in exhibitions of original visitor-created astrophotography displays. These images and displays will be featured not only at the participating institutions, but also on ASTC, IYA, and NASA websites.

Students, teachers, individuals and families can Capture the Colorful Cosmos this summer. From July through September, use MicroObservatory, an online network of robotic telescopes that you can control over the Internet from your own computer. Take an image tonight and get it in your email inbox tomorrow. Then, process your image just like a professional astronomer and create your own astrophotography display to share with friends and family!

About the Project | Control a Telescope | Create Your Images | Share Your Photos | Trouble-Shooting


BACKGROUND: About the Project

NASA and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics invite you to share your views of the universe in this exciting astrophotography project. The images that YOU take using online robotic telescopes will be featured on the NASA and International Year of Astronomy websites!

Who? Anyone with an email address can use the MicroObservatory robotic telescopes to request electronic images of astronomical objects. If you are 13 or younger, you will need a parent or guardian to enter your photos for you.

What? Images will be taken the night you request them and emailed to you the next day. You can download free, easy-to-use image processing software to bring out more details and colorize your images.

When? Photos can be taken and processed all summer long. Enter your images by September 30 to participate in the project. We'll be selecting photos to feature on the NASA and IYA websites from Labor Day on.

Where? Upload your processed images to the Capture the Colorful Cosmos Flickr Pool and add a caption to share how you made them.

Why? Because 2009 is the International Year of Astronomy and the Universe is Yours to Discover!

Look DOWN for more details and look UP to Capture the Colorful Cosmos...

STEP 1: Control a Telescope (return to top)

MicroObservatory is an online network of robotic telescopes that you can control over the Internet from your own computer.

1. Visit the Observing With NASA telescope portal and click on "Control a Telescope"

2. Choose your target(s) and click "OBSERVE" to take an image of that object.

3. Choose your field of view, exposure time, and filters; then click "CONTINUE"

4. Enter your (confidential) information and "SUBMIT" your request to the telescopes

5. Look for an email the next day containing a link to download your requested image(s)


STEP 2: Create Your Images (return to top)

MicroObservatoryImage is a free easy-to-use software program that helps you turn your telescope images into cool astrophotographs.

1. Download the image processing software to your computer

2. Install the software on your machine by extracting the downloaded file and start the program by double clicking on the application icon ("" for Macintosh, "run.bat" for PCs)

3. Download your image(s) by clicking on the link in your email and downloading the FITS file to your computer

4. Open your image(s) by dragging it into the open software program or opening it using the File menu at the top of the program screen

5. Use the processing tools in the menus and toolbars to bring out detail and colorize your image(s)

6. Save each image as a GIF file (don't forget to add the .GIF extension!)

NEED MORE INFO? Download the Illustrated Processing Tools Guide (1.5 Mb PDF) to see step-by-step instructions for opening and using the image processing software.

STEP 3: Share Your Images
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NASA and the Center for Astrophysics will choose images from the Capture the Colorful Cosmos Flickr pool to be featured on the NASA and IYA websites.

1. If you don't have a free Flickr account, create one here.

2. Once you have your acccount, log in and join the Capture the Colorful Cosmos group

3. Upload your processed images and add up to ten of them to the group pool

4. In the description, tell us: How did you make this image? What it is? How does it inspire you? What should people notice about it?

5. (Optional) Add tags to your images to enter them in specific astrophotography project categories: moon, planet, star, nebula, galaxy, rgb


TROUBLE-SHOOTING (return to top)


Make sure your email program is accepting emails from

Or look for your images at the MicroObservatory Image Archive. (Images are stored for 2 weeks.)


Download the MicroObservatoryImage users manual or view the technical notes online.



Website last updated: June 22, 2009