David Malin

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David Malin looking at a poster about Malin 1, a galaxy found by him
Three-colour photograph of the Horsehead Nebula taken by David Malin at the AAO

David Malin (born 28 March 1941) is a British-Australian astronomer and photographer.


Malin was born in 1941 and raised in the north of England, Heywood, Greater Manchester. He was trained as a chemist and originally worked as a microscopist. In 1975 he moved to Sydney to take up a job with the Anglo-Australian Observatory (AAO).

Whilst working at the AAO, Malin developed several photographic processing techniques to maximise the ability to extract faint and low contrast detail from the non-linear response and high densities of photographic plates.

These techniques were initially devised to enhance the scientific return from photography, but Malin is now best known for the series of three-colour wide field images of deep space objects which have been widely published as posters and in books around the world. Most professional astronomical photographs are monochromatic, if colour pictures are required, three images are needed. During his career at the AAO, Malin made about 150 three-colour images of deep sky objects mostly using the 4 m Anglo-Australian Telescope and plates from the 1.2m (47 in) UK Schmidt Telescope.

The true-colour images are assembled from three separate monochromatic photographs taken in red, green and blue light. Each photographic plate is a special black and white emulsion designed for low light conditions and is further enhanced for low light sensitivity by baking in a nitrogen and hydrogen atmosphere. The exposure times are relatively long, varying between 5–60 minutes for each colour depending on the luminosity of the object. The colour image is re-assembled in the darkroom, where further techniques such as unsharp masking to enhance fine detail might also be applied.

Since the early 1990s, silver-based astrophotography has been largely superseded by CCD imaging techniques. Although CCDs are much more sensitive than photographic plates, they are rarely able to cover the large field of view required to capture most nebulae and nearer galaxies.

In 2001 he retired from the AAO to concentrate on his own business David Malin Images which manages his image collection along with those of related photographers.


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