Thank you, Hubble

So it hasn’t escaped my notice that my hit count has been treading absurdly high in the past couple of days. And it equally hasn’t been missed that most of the views are devoted to my Hubble contest post. Well, it turns out I’m a bit late, but the reason is that NASA has released new images since Hubble’s last repair.

“Hubble is back in action. Together, NASA and Hubble are opening new vistas on the universe,” astronomer and frequent Hubble user Heidi Hammel said.

With the obligatory quote out of the way, let’s get to what everyone wants: the photos.

NGC 6302, Butterfly Nebula

NGC 6302, Butterfly Nebula

 Hickson Compact Group 92, Stephan’s Quintet

Hickson Compact Group 92, Stephan’s Quintet

Abell 37

Abell 37

NGC 6217

NGC 6217

Like a big pizza pie

Apologies for the lame post title.

I was walking down my semi-rural road this evening and noticed that I could see most of the way down it. The reason was that the moon was lighting my way rather efficiently. Using that as inspiration – and because the beginning of another semester brings a lot of work my way, thus making my posting skimpier – here is an image of a full lunar eclipse from February 20, 2008.

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The next eclipse is scheduled for December 21, 2010.

Life is beautiful

Thanks to the wonder that is LASIK, I can now see very well. I had the surgery done about 18 months ago when I had horrific vision. It brought me to 20/25 vision, which was a decrease from my contacts. Over time, my vision deteriorated a bit, which is normal, especially for someone as young as I am, and it got to 20/40. I decided to have it redone (at a reduced cost) recently. I am now at 20/15 vision. The difference is unbelievable. Everything I see is far more beautiful. The road as I drive is aesthetically pleasing right now. The details of trees are better than ever. Hell, retail stores looks great to me. I hate big box stores. They hate their employees; people are not their concern, just an expense. It’s no wonder so many support Republican causes. But if they’re going to be there, I’d rather be able to see them than not.

But what I’ve missed most of all, lightyears beyond everything else (quite literally), is the night sky. I arrived home last night. No one left the outside light on. The moon was hidden behind Earth’s shadow. I’m not in the middle of a city. The sky was intense. I stared deep into the Milky Way. Just a week ago I shied from doing this because I was so actively disappointed in the blurry edges of the stars. I could hardly identify planets anymore. Everything was dull. Now life feels fundamentally different. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to capture that deep feeling of physical spirituality. The night sky is where it’s at for me, but it’s been missing for some time now. Science has finally recaptured it for me. It turns out all that namby-bamby empirical evidence actually means something. Who knew.

Looking at the sky last night was stunning. There was pinpoint accuracy in the stars. Everything popped. I cannot wait to go back out.

Quintuplet Cluster

Quintuplet Cluster

More exoplanets

They keep findin’ ’em.

In the search for Earth-like planets, astronomers zeroed in Tuesday on two places that look awfully familiar to home. One is close to the right size. The other is in the right place.

European researchers said they not only found the smallest exoplanet ever, called Gliese 581 e, but realized that a neighboring planet discovered earlier, Gliese 581 d, was in the prime habitable zone for potential life.

While Gliese 581 e is too hot for life “it shows that nature makes such small planets, probably in large numbers,” Marcy commented. “Surely the galaxy contains tens of billions of planets like the small, Earth-mass one announced here.”

I don’t think most people recognize the significance of science like this. Scientists will never find themselves short of planets to observe. Our small, insignificant star has 8 planets around it. Assuming the average star has only 1 planet in its orbit, that’s still trillions of planets. The number is probably less than 1 per star, I’d guess, but who knows? It’s at least certainly unfathomably high. A small fraction per star would still yield a huge number; there are more stars in the Universe than grains of sands on all the beaches of Earth. Not enough people appreciate that fact.

It can’t be the hand of God

Not the hand of God

This is a photo of Pulsar B1509 taken by NASA’s Chandra X-ray observatory. There is a poll which is attached to the article on this image.

What do you think is captured on the recently released NASA photograph?

  • The hand of God
  • A natural stellar formation

“A natural stellar formation” is leading because the poll has been crashed by PZ Myers. But even though atheists crashed this poll to give it the correct answer, creationists can’t possible view this as being the hand of their particular sky fairy.

Taken by NASA’s Chandra X-ray observatory from it’s orbiting 360 miles above the Earth, the recently released photo of Pulsar B1509 captures the X-Ray nebula in a state shaped like a human hand. NASA estimates the shape spans 150 light years, but is caused by a dense neutron star that’s just 12 miles in diameter.

Astronomers believe B1509 is roughly 1,700 years old and is located 17,000 light years from Earth.

If this was God’s hand, it’d have to have existed since the beginning of time (in fact, since before the beginning of time – creationists have incredible insights into the pre-Universe). It is only 1,700 years old. As we all know, if this were the hand of the particular cultural god of Christians, it would would need to exist since roughly the beginning of the agricultural revolution – i.e., the beginning of all time.

Also, it has four fingers.

It can't be the hand of God

Not the hand of God

This is a photo of Pulsar B1509 taken by NASA’s Chandra X-ray observatory. There is a poll which is attached to the article on this image.

What do you think is captured on the recently released NASA photograph?

  • The hand of God
  • A natural stellar formation

“A natural stellar formation” is leading because the poll has been crashed by PZ Myers. But even though atheists crashed this poll to give it the correct answer, creationists can’t possible view this as being the hand of their particular sky fairy.

Taken by NASA’s Chandra X-ray observatory from it’s orbiting 360 miles above the Earth, the recently released photo of Pulsar B1509 captures the X-Ray nebula in a state shaped like a human hand. NASA estimates the shape spans 150 light years, but is caused by a dense neutron star that’s just 12 miles in diameter.

Astronomers believe B1509 is roughly 1,700 years old and is located 17,000 light years from Earth.

If this was God’s hand, it’d have to have existed since the beginning of time (in fact, since before the beginning of time – creationists have incredible insights into the pre-Universe). It is only 1,700 years old. As we all know, if this were the hand of the particular cultural god of Christians, it would would need to exist since roughly the beginning of the agricultural revolution – i.e., the beginning of all time.

Also, it has four fingers.

Hubble Contest

The Hubble image contest has been completed. The winner, by a landslide, is the Interacting Galaxies. I can only presume, humbly, that it was my endorsement of this image that made it the winner.

Arp 274 is a pair of galaxies. Drawn together by their gravity, they are starting to interact. The spiral shapes of these galaxies are mostly intact, but evidence can be seen of the gravitational distortions they are creating within each other. When galaxies interact and merge together, the gas clouds inside them often form tremendous numbers of new stars.

More detailed images of Arp 274 (the winner) will be released soon. In the meantime, here’s another image of interacting galaxies (Arp 148).

hubble_interacting_galaxy_arp_148_2008-04-24

Hubble image to be released between April 2 and 5

Come back to see the Hubble picture of Arp 274, released between April 2-5 during 100 Hours of Astronomy, a worldwide event focused on renewing interest in the night sky.

Cool Hubble contest

NASA is asking the public to vote on what Hubble should image next.

The U.S. space agency is inviting the public to vote for one of six candidate astronomical objects for Hubble to observe in honor of the International Year of Astronomy, which began this month. The options, which Hubble has not previously photographed, range from far-flung galaxies to dying stars. Votes can be cast until March 1.

Hubble’s camera will take a high-resolution image revealing new details about the object that receives the most votes. The image will be released during the International Year of Astronomy’s “100 Hours of Astronomy” from April 2 to 5.

Everyone who votes also will be entered into a random drawing to receive one of 100 copies of the Hubble photograph made of the winning celestial body.

Voting can be done here. I personally cast my vote for the interacting galaxies. I find it exciting to see two massive, gravity-bound clusters of stars tear each other apart. But maybe I’m too mundane. The spiral galaxy is currently in the lead.

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This image is called “The Antennae Galaxies in Collision” (and is just eye-candy for this post; it doesn’t have anything to do with the voting).

Tendril in the Night

Tendril in the Night

Because I like it.

A mystery? It must have been God.

Astronomers have detected a lour roar from faraway space.

ARCADE’s mission was to search the sky for faint signs of heat from the first generation of stars, but instead they heard a roar from the distant reaches of the universe.

“The universe really threw us a curve,” Kogut said. “Instead of the faint signal we hoped to find, here was this booming noise six times louder than anyone had predicted.”

Detailed analysis of the signal ruled out primordial stars or any known radio sources, including gas in the outermost halo of our own galaxy.

Other radio galaxies also can’t account for the noise – there just aren’t enough of them.

“You’d have to pack them into the universe like sardines,” said study team member Dale Fixsen of the University of Maryland. “There wouldn’t be any space left between one galaxy and the next.”

The signal is measured to be six times brighter than the combined emission of all known radio sources in the universe.

For now, the origin of the signal remains a mystery.

“We really don’t know what it is,”said team member Michael Seiffert of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

“This is what makes science so exciting,” Seiffert said. “You start out on a path to measure something – in this case, the heat from the very first stars – but run into something else entirely, some unexplained.”