From A Sky Survey
The Sloan Digital Sky Survey is one of the new generation of automated, telescopic sky surveys. These surveys are returning a huge amount of data, in volumes that would have been unprecedented even a couple of decades ago. Sloan in particular is able to take spectra of large numbers of stars, and do a basic reduction all by itself. It’s possible to download thousands of target-star spectra straight to your hard drive, without having to put in telescope proposals, or physically go and observe. (This has made population studies a lot easier! The surveys are also why there’s been a lot of work on galactic structure in the last few years – it’s suddenly got easier to do, basically.)
As well as raw data, Sloan also returns images. These are through the so-called ‘sky server’ (the visual tools, for instance, are here). The images are coloured in relation to the photometric bands they receive (there’s an explanation of how they do the colouring here). Whether the results are beautiful, well, I leave that as an exercise to the reader! (I think some of them can be, though). Here are some examples that I took earlier, pretty much at random (I entered several combinations of R.A. and Declination into the Finding Chart tool):
The Famous Places gallery is also worth a look. I’d particularly recommend the detector artifacts, oddly enough. They’re really annoying from a data point of view, but some of them do look quite pretty.