Color, Astronomy and Coding

Using data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and other satellites on exploded stars, star-forming regions, and black holes, you'll learn basic coding. By following the video tutorials below, you will see just how integral coding is in the pursuit of learning about our Universe. It's an example of the exciting ways that computer science is both part of routine tasks in our every day lives and part of the exciting quest to explore the cosmos.

Launch the coding activity now or start with the resources below for background information, facilitator guides, video tutorials and student examples.

Start Here

The Nuts and Bolts

Coloring the Universe: Part 1

Coloring the Universe: Part 2

Pencil and Paper
Ideas for alternate needs
Run a virtual lab
Interactive and demonstrations
Explore the platform
Take a survey
Listen to the podcast
Read the blog
Download the handouts

Launch the Coding Activities

Grades 4-12 students with no prior coding experience can learn how to use computers to create images and understand astronomical data. Participants learn basic coding starting with familiar objects and simple concepts such as shape and color, graduating to astronomical objects. Following a scaffolded set of activities, and working with data from NASA orbiting telescopes on sources from exploded stars to star-forming regions, to galaxies, to black holes, participants can experience real world application of science, technology and even art.

Note: This activity can take from 40-75 minutes, depending on the total number of students, the length of time allotted per step, etc.

Lesson 1: Recoloring the Universe


Lesson 2: Recoloring the Universe
Intro 2

Lesson 3: Recolor
Create a color
Lesson 4: Scene
Explore filters and color-shifting
Lesson 5: Flowers
Mash up two images
Lesson 6: Supernova
Create a colored image of
an exploding star
Lesson 7: Starforming
Explore a deep six-wavelength
stack of astronomy images
Lesson 8: Review

Play these videos locally

Explore the Science

More Background & Resources

About the data
-Collecting Chandra data
-X-ray Images 101
-Adding color to Chandra data
-Working with FITS files

Student Examples

Student Example 1
Student Example 2
Student Example 3
Student Example 4
Student Example 5
Student Example 6
Contact Us
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophisics
60 Garden Street,
Cambridge, MA 02138 USA
Acknowledgements: Recoloring the Universe with Pencil Code was created by volunteers David Bau (developer of Pencil Code and a Google employee at the time), August Muench (astronomer for the American Astronomical Society), Kim Arcand (visualization lead for NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory), and Sydney Pickens and Matthew Dawson (both computer science educators with Google CS First.). Further work has been developed with support from the Chandra X-ray Center, at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, in Cambridge, MA. Recoloring the Universe is also supported by NASA with funding under contract NAS8-03060.

Chandra AAS CODE Google CS First Pencil Code