This image was produced with a 12-inch RCOS telescope and a SBIG STL-11000 camera located in southern Australia between October 23- November 24, 2006.
Exposure times: 395 minutes Luminance, 120 minutes Red, 120 minutes Green and 120 minutes Blue (All 1X1)

The Tarantula Nebula in Dorado (NGC 2070)

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Since the dawn of Antiquity, people have been thrilled with the power of enchanters, magicians, supernatualists and wizards. Often draped in capes spewing stars and comets- these apparent masters of sorcery gave the illusion of doing impossible feats as if they were easy. Today, sorcerers still surround us. For example, astrophotographers routinely conjure amazing visions that mystify and astound not through legerdemain but through a modern equivalent of (presti)digitation.

Instead of cauldrons, wands, potions and incantations, today's conjurors digitize light into billions of bits- each representing on or off, black or white, one or zero. It's seductive to use this as a metaphor for thinking but, I believe, the Universe that surrounds us can't be expressed with the absolute precision of an imaging equation- at least, not yet.

Since our images start life in a darkened state that must be brightened, the act of stretching the truth from our data requires an unlimited number of intervening judgements and, therefore, each picture becomes a personal, interpretive performance- including those from spacecraft and great observatories. Thus, even the most angelic of intentions can become rife with subtle, accidental illusions that, nonetheless, also appear quite convincing.

Perhaps this is one reason why the menagerie pulled from our telescoping hats so easily captures the imagination of the audiences that our modest performances occasionally attract. In short, somewhere between on or off and black or white- the images we present exists in a familiar, altogether human state that is lower than one, higher than zero and far from perfect.

But the show must go on, so here's a little trick- I promise there is nothing up my sleeve. Just say the magic word- Abracadabra!- then click the image above for a closer view.

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