Zolt Levay

Z. G. Levay (Photo by Michael DiBari Jr.)
Photo: Michael DiBari Jr.

My main work is to produce and publicize pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope. As a result, I am privileged to work with some of the most spectacular astronomical images ever.

I was born in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, of Hungarian parents, came to the U.S. when I was four years old, and grew up near Baltimore, Maryland. I became interested in astronomy in high school, particularly fascinated by the magnificent photographs made with the world’s great telescopes. Trying to make photos with my own home-built telescope helped fuel an interest in all things technical and a growing passion for photography.

I pursued astronomical studies at Indiana University (Bloomington) that also included heavy doses of math, physics, and computer science. I left college with a BS degree in Astrophysics in 1975 for graduate studies at Case Western Reserve University (Warner and Swasey Observatory) in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1978 I left Case with a MS degree in Astronomy and joined Computer Sciences Corporation at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, where I supported a variety of space science missions, culminating with the International Ultraviolet Explorer (IUE) satellite.

I arrived at the newly-established Space Telescope Science Institute in 1983, still employed by CSC, to help design and write software for astronomers to view and analyze data obtained by the Hubble Space Telescope. The next several years were a roller-coaster ride of anticipation, dissappointment, and triumph, watching launch delays, the Challenger accident, deployment of the telescope, realization of serious problems, and finally the successful servicing of HST in 1993.

In 1993 I began to work in the Office of Public Outreach at STScI, now employed by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA). I started this phase of my career just when the first remarkable data emerged from the repaired telescope, and found myself helping to produce and publicize the first images. Ever since, I have been privileged to work with scientists and technical professionals here at STScI and throughout the world to assemble the observations into photos, illustrations, video and other products that we distribute to the public via the web, media, and educators.

I have been fortunate to produce some of the most remarkable HST images, including the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, Orion Nebula, Tadpole Galaxy, Cone Nebula, V838 Mon, Helix Nebula, Carina Nebula, M82, among many others. More recently we have also made some effort to combine Hubble's visible-light data with images from other wavelengths including NASA's other Great Observatorites, Chandra X-ray Observatory, and Spitzer Space Telescope, among others, to explore different ways to visualize the universe. I am a member of the Hubble Heritage Team, which strives to showcase the finest images made by the Hubble Space Telescope.

I helped establish the first STScI web sites devoted to publicizing HST results during the earliest days of the World Wide Web, and continue to produce content for the continuously updated web sites. As an early web service, we supported worldwide observations of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9’s impact on Jupiter in 1994, collecting images from HST and many other observatories and making them available on our web site soon after they were taken. Little did we imagine the level of interest that soon caused systems to crash because of the enormous web traffic! Ever since, our growing on-line services have been extremely popular. I continue to help support the news effort at STScI to publicize HST discoveries, producing photos and illustrations to explain the science, as well as maintaining internal web services to coordinate development of news products.

When I’m not busy with Hubble photos, I enjoy my family and trying to make photographs with my own equipment while traveling, hiking, camping, and canoeing.

August 18, 2011