There's Got to Be an Invisible Sky

A new book brings cosmic objects close enough to touch — at least for the fingers of the blind.

NASA this week debuted a new book that presents images from its Great Observatories in a new format that allows visually impaired people to experience them.

"About 10 million visually impaired people live in the United States," said author Noreen Grice, in a statement. "I hope this book will be a unique resource for people who are sighted or blind to better understand the part of the universe that is invisible to all of us."

"Touch the Invisible Sky" contains 60 pages of color images of nebulae, stars, galaxies and a few of the telescopes used to capture the pictures. The authors added embossing of lines, bumps and other textures to each image, rendering colors, shapes, and other details in a third dimension. Descriptions that accompany each of the 28 images in the book are supplied in Braille and large-print text, making the information accessible to readers having differing visual abilities.

Images included come from the Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-ray Observatory, Spitzer Space Telescope and ground-based telescopes. The celestial subjects are shown as they appear through visible-light telescopes and different spectral regions including radio, infrared, visible, ultraviolet and X-ray light.

The book introduces the concept of light and the spectrum. A variety of objects are presented to illustrate these concepts in order of increasing distance, beginning with our sun, then traveling out into the galaxy to exploding and dying stars, the Whirlpool galaxy and colliding Antennae galaxies.

As suggested by the book's title, many of the things outside the visible portion of the electromagnetic spectrum are "invisible" to sighted persons. Even celestial wonders photographed by Hubble and ground-based telescopes using visible light can only be captured through very long exposures. Then the researchers manipulate the images further, adding color and enhancing details. The information in "Touch the Invisible Sky" may allow blind and visually impaired students to interpret information about the universe as well as sighted persons.

"Touch the Invisible Sky" was written by Noreen Grice of You Can Do Astronomy LLC and the Museum of Science, Boston, with Simon Steel, an astronomer with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., and Doris Daou, an astronomer at NASA Headquarters, Washington.

The book will be available through NASA libraries, the National Federation of the Blind, Library of Congress repositories, schools for the blind, libraries, museums, science centers and Ozone Publishing. Staff is the premier source of space exploration, innovation and astronomy news, chronicling (and celebrating) humanity's ongoing expansion across the final frontier. We transport our visitors across the solar system and beyond through accessible, comprehensive coverage of the latest news and discoveries. For us, exploring space is as much about the journey as it is the destination.