Lots of really awesome images from the depths of space this week, starting with images from the refurbished Hubble Space Telescope.

Granted a new lease on life courtesy of it’s recent retrofit, the venerable observatory showed everyone that it’s still got what it takes. Check out images of stars being born inside the Carina Nebula and a close up of the super dense Omega Centauri star cluster at HubbleSite.

The relative new kid on the block, NASA’s Swift satellite, is no slouch either though. This week it sent back a truly spectacular mosaic image of the Andromeda galaxy, giving us the most complete view so far of our nearest neighbor, galactically speaking.

Not to be cut out of the act, Esa’s Planck observatory has started strutting it’s stuff this week as well, sending back thermal images of the oldest light in the universe which are important to our understanding of the cosmos, if a little yawn inducing aesthetically.

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I See You!

I See You!

Now sure, the far off NGC 1097 galaxy looks, to the untrained observer, like the eye of some angry God, glaring down upon us disapprovingly.

But it’s not. It’s something even cooler.

What looks to be the pupil in this image, captured by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, is actually an enormous black hole that weighs in at more than 100 million times the mass of our sun.

The bright white glow it produces stems from the fact that it is surrounded by a star nursery, where new stars are being formed at an astonishing rate.

Also notable in this fantastic image is the large blue dot to the left of center, nestled between the two leftmost spiral arms. This object is NGC 1097’s smaller companion galaxy, which may be “poking through” the larger galaxy, as researcher George Helou puts it, or might just be nicely placed to say cheese at the moment. What it is not, is a cataract on the eye of an all powerful deity.

So just sit back, appreciate how beautiful and strange the universe really is, and remember – although God almost certainly disapproves of a great many of your lifestyle choices, he is not staring at you from 50 million light years away. Probably.

Sleep tight!

Space is chock full of weird stuff this week, from the perhaps Holy Grail of astronomy in Gliese 581 e, a small, rocky exoplanet that exists in a potentially habitable orbital zone to a Jupiter sized planet with one of the strangest looking orbits ever observed, existing for most of its’ orbit in the Goldilocks zone and occasionally swooping in close and nearly grazing (in a cosmic sense) the star it orbits. These two planets are just two of the more interesting examples of the scads of planets that are being discovered recently. At this point, finding another planet that supports life somewhere in the universe looks more like a matter of time than anything else. And considering how far rocketry has come in just the past two centuries, from firing sheep into the stratosphere to capturing incredible images of the far side of the galaxy, like the ones sent back by NASA’s Kepler Mission earlier this week, it may not even be a matter of that much time. Heck, if the proposed Ceres Lander gets off the ground, we might not even have to leave our solar system to find evidence of extraterrestrial life.

The Big Wide World, Courtesy of Kepler

The Big Wide World, Courtesy of Kepler

Speaking of our cozy little solar system, you probably haven’t noticed it, but the sun is acting a touch peculiar as of late. Not that it’s anything to be concerned about. After all, new stars are always being born and researchers in Dublin may have come a step closer to understanding just how that happens.

No, you should save all of your concern for the following two questions: a) what is the ‘space blob‘? and b) does it spell our imminent cosmic doom? 

 

The Blob That Shall Not Be Named

The Blob That Shall Not Be Named

I’m going with a) some kind of dark and sleeping elder god from the realms beyond sanity and b) I guess that depends on what you mean by imminent. I mean, chances are we’ve got another like, five or ten years. Unless we start running into terrible omens, like sharks appearing where they do not belong.