ASE logo The Astronomical Society of Edinburgh


No 58 - December 2008

Never the TWAN shall meet?

Twain derives from the Old English twegen, meaning two. The phrase 'never the twain shall meet' was used by Rudyard Kipling, in his Barrack-Room Ballads, 1892: 'Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.' There, Kipling is lamenting the gulf of understanding between the British and the inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent. But enough of that!

Whereas, according to Google, the above suggests 'two things which are so different as to have no opportunity to unite', TWAN (The World At Night) encourages us to expand our astronomical interests into a blend of the celestial and the terrestrial. I enjoy it very much! I'm not suggesting a falsification of the images. Digital imaging makes that all too easy. In that case two (or more) images, potentially from entirely different locations or times can be merged into stunning, almost surrealistic images. But there's the rub! As astronomers I suspect that most of us would agree that authenticity in our observations, our note-taking and recording and notably our astronomical imaging should be paramount.

Calton Hill

Image-processing packages such as Photoshop - the best known - and others a little less versatile but available for much less money, offer a range of tools with which to tweak - in the 'digital darkroom' - the 'raw' images that our digital cameras produce ... 'Levels', 'Contrast', 'Saturation', 'Curves', etc. There are also specialist astronomy imaging packages available.

Maybe we shouldn't worry too much about this ... as the professionals do it too! There is however the concern that beginners drawn into the challenge of digital astro-imaging might be disappointed with their efforts when 'old hands' at the game criticise them as 'going too far'. But what are the limits to this genre of digital imaging? Are there any? Should there be limits? For those of us who are amateur astronomers/astro-imagers, are we not free to produce the images our digital equipment enables us to do, regardless of matters of authenticity? Anyway ... who sets the limits on what we amateurs - even serious amateurs - produce? There is no 'authenticity police'! We can produce the images we want. We might even rival the Hubble images in glorious, saturated hues and colours! After all, we are amateurs pursuing our hobby/passion for fun ... or do we still have aspirations for scientific authenticity ... whatever that is, in our context?

The most stunning images that I've seen in the TWAN website achieve that scientific/authenticity balance very well. A few astro-imagers, stretch things perhaps a little too far ... in my humble opinion. Their images are awe-inspiring and might be compared with some of the illustrations that adorn the covers of science fiction magazines and books ... but then, so long as the authors of these images 'admit' to that then is there really any problem? In my own efforts at this TWAN genre I do use the 'controls' that Photoshop gives me. I do get twinges of guilt when I 'tweak up the saturation' ... but should I worry?

If you feel your astronomical interests could make connections with the beauty of landscapes and or townscapes then TWAN is something you certainly should make acquaintance with!


Frank Howie


Cover page

IYA astro-happening at Science Festival

Johann von Lamont - Bavaria's Scottish Astronomer Royal

Never the TWAN shall meet?

Total eclipse of the sun on 1st August 2008

Forthcoming events

Exoplanets come into view

Recent observations

Variable star observing workshop

Society news

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