The Orion Nebula comes alive with color in 1 of 20 recently announced winning shots in the European Southern Observatory's Hidden Treasures 2010 astrophotography contest.
The competition called for the public to troll through terabytes of raw image data collected by ESO's professional observatories and process it into something artistic and scientifically valuable.
Ten people submitted the 20 highest ranked shots, which were chosen based on "the quality of the data processing, the originality of the image, and the overall aesthetic feel," according to an ESO statement.
The Orion Nebula, a huge cloud of gas and dust that's actively forming stars, is one of the most studied and photographed celestial objects. Russian amateur astronomer Igor Chekalin decided to process this image to emphasize the relatively cool dust, which reflects starlight, rather than the hot hydrogen gas, which emits its own light. (See a high-resolution Hubble picture of Orion.)
Chekalin first identified a series of grayscale images archived from ESO's 2.2-meter telescope in La Silla, Chile. Then he painstakingly stitched together and digitally processed the images to pull out structural details in the nebula.
"Normally our team of professional image processors searches this archive and identifies data sets that could be interesting for the public," said ESO public outreach officer Oana Sandu. "This time, however, we decided to give astronomy and photography enthusiasts the opportunity to try their skills and show the world what they can do."
(Also see the best astronomy pictures of 2010, as chosen by the Royal Observatory, Greenwich.)