Friday, October 12, 2007

Impossibly Beautiful

And they were something to behold, with a strange and distant beauty that called to Adam from afar. (from The Story of Everything, Chapter 16)

Consider this the first "guest blog" at the Story-of-Everything Place. It is certainly the first visual one. Commenter John Bayerl sent in a set of photos that were judged last year, by astronomers, to be the best from 16 years of Hubble telescope operation. "This has to be part of The Story of Everything," said John. In an article in the Daily Mail, reporter Michael Hanlon said the photos "illustrate that our universe is not only deeply strange, but almost impossibly beautiful." I have to agree.

The winning photo, above, is of the Sombrero Galaxy, 28 million light years from earth and 50,000 light years across. The next four places were awarded to pictures of nebulae, those clouds of gas and dust that are both the graveyards and the nurseries of stars. All are within 8,000 light years of earth.

Second place went to the Ant Nebula. It derives its name from the way it looks to telescopes on the ground.

In third place was the Eskimo Nebula. The furry hood around the face is a ring of comet-shaped objects flying away from a dying star.

Number four was the Cat's Eye Nebula, one of the most complex nebulae known. It lies 3,000 light years away.

The Hourglass Nebula, 8000 light years away, came in fifth. It's narrow in the middle because the winds that shape it are weaker at the center.

Are the colors real? See how the Hubble web site explains what's behind the pictures. While you're there, go to their Gallery to get an idea of all that's in their collection. Photos six through ten in the judging can be seen here. As Jodie Foster said at the end of the movie Contact, "I had no idea!"


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

“A picture is worth a thousand words” described the Hubble photographs selected for the top ten images. The color and beauty brings wonder to the viewer. I followed the link to read about the process, using three filters to isolate wavelengths. Then do the colors exist in nature but the filters are needed to discover the truth? You notice a spec­trum after white light passes through a prism. I remembered a wheel my grandfather made: ¾ was painted black, one fourth was painted white with 3 narrow, parallel black lines divided into three segments and staggered. When I spun the wheel, I saw three colors. I know this was an optical illusion. Maybe the color was there, just as the color was in the star clusters and in the sunlight.