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Episode 158 - Getting Beyond the Photograph: Image Tricks with Dr. Tod Lauer

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Recap: In past episodes, I have talked about how you can't get any more information out of an image than what is in a single pixel. Dr. Tod Lauer is an astronomer who has worked on all kinds of telscopes and instrument data and has developed numerous image processing techniques over his career. In this episode, we discuss some of those and how to correctly - versus incorrectly - apply them to image data to get to the best representation of the original object, or what the image was trying to capture.

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Episode Summary

Bio: Tod R. Lauer is an astronomer at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, headquartered in Tucson, AZ. Lauer received a BS in astronomy from Caltech in 1979, and a PhD from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1983. He served on the research staff at Princeton University Observatory from 1983 to 1990, before joining the NOAO scientific staff. Lauer was a member of the Hubble Space Telescope WFPC-1 team, and has conducted extensive research with the Hubble; in 1992 he received the NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal in recognition of his early work with the instrument. Lauer's work with the Hubble is largely concerned with the search for massive black holes, the structure of galaxies, and stellar populations. He also conducts research on the large-scale structure of the universe using the ground-based telescopes of NOAO. Recently Lauer has joined the New Horizons science team and has helped support the analysis of the imagery obtained during its exploration of Pluto. Lauer has a long standing technical interest in astronomical image processing, and explores algorithms to optimize the use of astronomical cameras.

As this was a live recording with a guest, there is no specific transcript. Topics discussed include:

  • What kind of image or "light" data have you used over your career?
  • What telescopes/instruments have you been involved with, or perhaps shorter, what are the most memorable or your favorite?
  • One thing that you're known for is "solving the Hubble Space Telescope's astigmatism." Could you talk about that, and what you did? (this involved a lengthy discussion of a processing technique called "deconvolution")
  • What is a single pixel in an image -- what does it represent? And, how can you "bend" the rules to get sub-pixel information?
  • How are we using what you were able to do at Pluto for planning New Horizons' encounter with its next object, known formally as 2014 MU69?
  • To wrap up our conversation, Eric from the Facebook page for the podcast asks what I think is a great closer: What was the most important image or images you've worked on? And I'll expand that to, what was your favorite? They don't necessarily have to be the same thing.

Memorable Quote: "The power of an algorithm is directly proportional to its ability to cut your hand off."

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