An astronomer by training but a photographer at heart, Zoltan Levay creates images of the cosmos with one of humankind’s most advanced optical instruments: the Hubble Space Telescope. Producing photos with the telescope, he says, is not that different from shooting mountains and rivers in national parks. “We’re just shooting landscapes of the universe instead,” he says.
Levay, 62, heads Hubble’s imaging group and is part of the Hubble Heritage Team, which works to share the telescope’s images with the public. Born in Pakistan, Levay moved with his parents to the United States in 1956. In high school, he built his own telescope to take pictures of planets and stars. He studied astronomy and astrophysics, and in 1983 he joined the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore as a programmer for Hubble. A few years after the telescope launched in 1990, he began working with its photos.
Levay transforms Hubble’s raw data into iconic images. Hubble’s cameras take black-and-white shots and record color with filters. Levay converts the data into reds, greens and blues of space. (For more on Hubble, see “25 years of Hubble.”)
A famous Hubble image is the Pillars of Creation, released in 1995. Its fingerlike projections show where stars are born. Using newer infrared cameras on Hubble, Levay and his team have now refashioned the image with greater clarity and a view inside the cloudy pillars (SN Online: 1/6/15).“It was a nice way to bookend Hubble’s mission,” he says.