Our stunning Universe

July 1, 2007 at 6:12 am 1 comment

Posts on the ThinkingShift blog are either original “thought pieces” or my rants, mainly about the surveillance society and privacy. Or I find interesting articles and share them with you. But today’s post is quite different. As regular ThinkingShift readers will be aware, I have a long-standing interest in anything to do with space and look out for news about NASA, discoveries in space or beautiful photographs of galaxies and stars.

The Hubble Space Telescope constantly takes images of the wonders of our Universe and presents these in NASA’s Hubblesite Gallery. You can use the images as screen savers and as the site says: “Your body may be trapped at your desk, but your imagination can roam the far reaches of the universe with our cosmic visuals“. You can see the entire collection of images here and I think you’d agree that the images are amongst the most beautiful ever captured and show the stunning beauty, colour and mystery of our complex Universe. The images are mainly of nebulae – swirling interstellar clouds of gases. They are self-luminous and often star-forming incubators. But also featured are spiralling galaxies and the dying moments of sun-like stars.

Of the many images the HubbleSite presents, I have chosen the five that most appeal to me. I found many of the images to be sculptural. Some are towering, others show a galaxy or nebula softly glowing. You can either double click the images below or go to the HubbleSite to view the entire collection and get lost in the wonders of our stunning universe. Following each image is a brief description, which I have distilled from information on the HubbleSite.

small_web.jpgSpiral Galaxy M100. A bright lavender coloured, swirling structure encrusted with jewel-like stars. This image was taken in 1993 by the second-generation Wide Field and Planetary Camera (WFPC-2). M100 is a member of the Virgo Cluster of galaxies and the image was taken through red, green, and blue filters to create a true colour picture. When I first saw the collection of images, I wondered if the colours had been enhanced but apparently not. This galaxy is similar to our Milky Way and contains over 100 billion stars. M100 is also known as Messier 100 and is one of the first spirals to be discovered. The blue arms of M100 are young, hot, massive stars. Truly a magnificent incubator!

small_web1.jpgA star’s death. When a star dies, it casts off gases and these form a layer or cocoon around the star’s remaining core. The gases glow due to ultraviolet light and the burned-out star becomes a white dwarf and are known to astronomers as planetary nebulae. This image is of NGC 2440. As the star dies, it shoots off expelled material, dust and gases in different directions, in this case, leading to a majestic bow-tie shaped structure. The beautiful colours you can see in the image correspond to gases: blue corresponds to helium; blue-green to oxygen; and red to nitrogen and hydrogen. NGC 2440 is 4,000 light years from Earth and the star’s final moments were captured by WFPC-2 in February 2007.

small_web2.jpgEagle Nebula. Sculptural and majestic, this structure shimmers with a vibrant palette of colours: mauves, soft blues, purple, peach and orange. Its pillar-like cloud is full of gases and dust, and light from nearby bright, hot stars illuminates and sculpts the nebula. Also known as M16, this image shows detail of one pillar and the rest of the nebula can be seen on Wikipedia or in this image from the HubbleSite.

small_web-1.jpgCarina Nebula. Like a turbulent thunderstorm about to break forth, the Carina Nebula (NGC 3372) is a pillar of cold nitrogen towering above the surface of a molecular cloud. Light and shadow seem to dance along this swirling structure, which is approximately 10,000 light years away from Earth and is a giant star forming region. You can read more about the Carina Nebula in Wikipedia. Eta Carinae is the most energetic star in this nebula and, during the 1830s, was the brightest star in the night sky but faded dramatically after this.

small_web-11.jpgTurtle in Space Nebula. Also known as NGC 6210, this vivid lime green beauty is an example of how dying stars form unusual often bizarre shapes. Planetary nebulae have formed butterfly, hourglass and stringray shapes, whilst this image is said to show a turtle swallowing a seashell. The brighter central region resembles a nautilus shell, whilst the whole image is similar to a turtle and its shell. The bright white dot in the centre is the dying star. Astronomers and scientists are yet to understand why stars in the throes of death create such unusual shapes.

If you go to the HubbleSite, you will find numerous images of galaxies and nebulae emitting a soft pearly glow or strong, bold colours – a testament to the diversity and majesty of our Universe. Credit for the images goes to NASA and the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScl).

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Entry filed under: NASA, Photography, Science, Space Telescope Science Institute.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Josh  |  September 13, 2007 at 2:19 am

    Those are beautiful pics – our universe is a great infinite thing!

    -Josh

    Reply

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