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I've been looking at some of the astronomy pictures of the day from NASA. They all have content that is indicative of certain situations or events. Supernovas have the scattered lines look, new stars all seem to be blue, dust (I assume) takes the color of stars behind it, etc. Is there a resource that I can use that will explain all of the known colors and shapes given by these structures in space?

Say I wanted to program a simulator to create images similar to these, I would need to know what causes the colors, the shapes, etc. I know there are infinite possibilities, but there are definitely repeated themes like the ones I mentioned.

I get that some of these are false color, but that's irrelevant to me, the false colors usually mean something anyway, so just ignore the fact of there being false color.

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You mean unaltered/visible color, correct? – TryTryAgain Jan 9 '12 at 19:57
Not necessarily. A lot of the false color images I've seen use certain colors that represent non visible colors. So I'm looking for something that could be used to help me simulate the final images too. – brandon Jan 9 '12 at 19:59
Unfortunately, there is no standard as to how or why images are colored like that. I've seen images that represent hydrogen with green and I've seen some where oxygen is – TryTryAgain Jan 9 '12 at 20:17
"Looking for a resource that explains all colors and shapes of stars and galaxies"... So are all the astronomers and astrophysicists. If you find one, let them know; I'm sure they'll be happy. – Jim Aug 1 '13 at 13:33
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Shapes depend on Nature, colors are usually the result of human choice. Often, but not always, the set of colours used in astronomy images is the so called "Hubble palette". Googling for those two words will bring you lot's of info. Have a look here for a good introduction:

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