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TO JAN. 15, 2000
Imagine having to take a photograph of something that the naked eye has never seen before. This is the challenge faced by David Malin, a photographic scientist-astronomer at the Anglo-Australian Observatory. For the past 25 years, Malin has been using telescopes near Sydney, Australia, to capture deep-space images of stunning, ethereal beauty. (AAT 34 is pictured.) Because conventional film cannot capture the minuscule variations in light from such distant objects, Malin had to come up with his own technique. Malin exposes three black-and-white emulsions on glass plates, each filtered slightly differently, to capture red, blue, and green light. For very faint objects, exposure times can last as long as 90 minutes. Malin then manipulates, enhances, and combines the three negatives so the objects in his photographs appear as the human eye would see them. In “Nightskies: The Art of Deep Space,” his images of faraway objects somehow possess a surprising degree of depth and three-dimensionality. Malin’s astronomical objects look like nothing on Earth, and yet one is still drawn to make comparisons. One image could easily pass for a cumulus cloud, were it not set against a sky pockmarked with stars; in another, the “light echo” of a supernova could just as easily be a micrograph of bacteria or cells. Other images might make viewers feel as if they were flying into LAX, staring at a patch of sandy beach, or looking up drunkenly from the floor of a discotheque. Draw your own conclusions from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Friday, to Saturday, Jan. 15, 2000, at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1200 New York Ave. NW. Free. (202) 326-6400. (Louis Jacobson)