Return to Heritage Home Page Current Image Gallery Archive Information Center Hubble Art Search
Return to Heritage Home Page Current Release Home Page Caption Fast Facts Biographies Supplemental Material Original Images
           
Jennifer Mack

Jennifer Mack

Hubble Heritage Team/STScI

Jennifer Mack is a Research and Instrument Scientist at the Space Telescope Institute where she is actively involved in both science research and instrument calibration for HST. Growing up under the dark skies of southern Colorado sparked her initial interest in astronomy. In high school, she was inspired by the simple beauty of physics and the power of mathematics in describing the universe around her.

Jennifer received her Bachelor's degree in physics from the University of Denver in 1993 and her Master's in astrophysics from the University of Minnesota in 1996. Shortly thereafter, she moved to Maryland for an opportunity to work with the awe-inspiring images of the Hubble Telescope. She is currently a member of the Wide Field Camera 3 instrument team where she works on flat fielding and photometric calibration of the detectors.

Outside of astronomy, Jennifer enjoys being a mom to a rambunctious toddler, playing her guitar, camping, and nature photography.


Josh Sokol

Josh Sokol

Hubble Heritage Team/STScI

It wasn't the meteor showers that did it. My mom waking me up as a young child, dragging me, bleary-eyed, out to some pitch black park at 2 AM; sitting me down in wet, cold, dewy grass, and the two of us staring up in inevitable disappointment at a clouded-over North Carolina sky? No thanks. I liked Greek myths as a kid, which was one of my mom's major selling points for each event, but in hindsight I'm convinced Orion, Perseus, and the other epic heroes would be as unimpressed as I was by the poor showings from their namesake meteor showers. And although I had better meteor shower experiences later, in college — who doesn't? — it wasn't shooting stars that made me like astronomy.

It was Hubble imagery. I was born recently enough to miss out on the classics: Sputnik, Apollo, Viking, Voyager, and the first shuttle flight, among others. But Hubble is only a year or two younger than I am. Seeing the "pillars of creation" image as a child, at the same time the world first did, was transformative. The realization that such haunting vastness, such lovely, terrible scale and scope lurked out there, somewhere — it left a deep impression on me.

At Swarthmore College, I read a book by the British philosopher Edmund Burke, my intent being to write a Jane Austen paper after reading as little Austen as possible. In the book, Burke took these two terms from aesthetic philosophy, "beautiful" and "sublime," and tweaked them to his own liking. Beauty, he said, was the pleasing quality possessed by small things; beauty was dainty, shapely, and delicate. Sublime, on the other hand, was a sort of nervous tingling, the mounting anxiety and tension and awe that one feels on the edge of a cliff, looking down into the chasm. Sublime to Burke was associated with magnificence and the infinite. To me, astronomy is clearly the science of the sublime.

In high school and college, as I took courses in both astronomy and literature, I would often return to my initial interest in the aesthetic and emotional resonances of Hubble images — if only to click through the last few entries on Astronomy Picture of the Day. After graduating, and coming to work at the Space Telescope Science Institute as a Research Instrument Analyst, I have joined the Hubble Heritage team. This means I get to see the newest image releases before the world does. Sometimes, I even get to process the scientific and artistic qualities of the images myself, consult with colleagues, and then write a caption that shares my interpretation with the public.

Ultimately, I think Hubble images are much more than what some astronomers might derisively call "pretty pictures." Yes, they are often pretty. But here the subject matter really matters. The planets, stars, and galaxies Hubble observes — these subjects, in their enormity, are the beating heart of the sublime. Appearing on our desktops or tablets as colorful little cosmic vistas, Hubble images are the sublime made beautiful. They are accessible, palatable, and intriguing to all of us.

How's that for a neatly closed loop? Hubble pictures inspired me to go into astronomy and to think about the intersections of science and aesthetics, and now I have a job in astronomy — where I, in part, get to write about the intersections of science and aesthetics in Hubble pictures. For an aspiring science writer, it's pretty much a dream come true.