The Beautiful Cosmos: M106

A beautiful picture of the M106 galaxy, lost in the vastness of space.

Messier 106 (also known as NGC 4258) is a spiral galaxy in the constellation Canes Venatici. It was discovered by Pierre Méchain in 1781. M106 is at a distance of about 22 to 25 million light-years away from Earth. It is also a Seyfert II galaxy, which means that due to x-rays and unusual emission lines detected, it is suspected that part of the galaxy is falling into a supermassive black hole in the center. NGC 4217 is a possible companion galaxy of Messier 106.

André van der Hoeven

The Beautiful Cosmos: Jupiter and Io

When talking astronomy pictures, it’s difficult to say which pictures  are ”real” and which ones are not. A great deal is obviously just computer generated or hand drawn, but the ones I post as part of the Beautiful Cosmos blog series all have some degree of validity to them. The first problem that crops up is simply that as soon as you get a photo from some distance (from a good telescope or a probe) the light you catch is not just visible. Most astronomy pictures try to represent the many variations of colours that the human eye simply isn’t capable to capture or comprehend.

Jupiter and Io as captured by NASA's New Horizons probe in 2007. Click to embiggen.

A problem is that we can’t really estimate the exact colours of nebulae, supernovae and galaxies when they are basically impossible to see on close-up without… you know, dying. So the basic answer to how for example a nebula would look from just a couple of light years is… you wouldn’t see it. It’s surrounded by clouds of dust blocking vision and – again – killing you. The best the astronomers can do is a rough estimate.

When it comes to planets and moons, it’s a little different. Almost all pictures of moons (including our) and the planets (including Earth) that you’ll see, including ones I post, are composites of several different pictures, sometimes just a couple and sometimes several dozens. That doesn’t make it the less real, it just allows for much higher precision than if you took a photo of the entire planet at the same time. The end result is basically how it’d look in real life. To me, this is real enough.

A great deal of high-detail photos that include several objects (such as a planet and its moon(s)) are ”fake” in that they are composited of different pictures. All photos you have ever seen of several planets (close up) at the same time are totally fake. Planets simple aren’t close enough, and photographing two planets in our solar system together is akin to photographing two flies on opposite sides of a football field. Obviously it can be done – planets like Venus, Jupiter, Uranus and Mars can all be viewed simultaneously on Earth’s night sky – but they won’t be in such high detail.

This picture, of Jupiter and it’s moon Io, is both real and fake. It’s all real, but the Jupiter part is made up of three composites, and the Io part is taken at a different time and then added. Still, they seem to fit in proportion, and from the right angle this is just as awesome as it would look. Read more about the authenticity of this particular picture on the Bad Astronomer Phil Plait’s blog.

The Beautiful Cosmos: Aurora Borealis from Space pt. 2

My old post with a photo of aurora borealis as seen from the International Space Station (ISS) really is nothing in comparison with this new 30-second video. The ISS is filming from above Canada, with the awesome green light reflections shimmering beneath.

The Beautiful Cosmos: Rhea

The Cassini probe recently caught some new breath taking pictures of Saturn’s second largest moon Rhea, a beautiful astronomical body. Wow. I recently wrote about the beauty of our own moon, and it’s amazing to ponder about the countless number of similar bodies out there.

Click to embiggen.

NASA · Space Daily · Tom’s Astronomy Blog · Yahoo

The Beautiful Cosmos: Jupiter

Jupiter has grown to become one of my absolute favourite planets in the last few months. Not sharing Mars’ potential for life, Saturn’s fantastic rings or Uranus unfortunate name, it’s often an overlooked planet, which is kind of a shame. It’s the biggest planet in the solar system, it’s mass being as much as two and a half times that of the rest of the planets combined. In other words, it’s freaking huge, and for that reason it’s also one of the most visible planets in the night sky throughout the year. Right now, it is clearly outmatched by Venus, and Mars is almost as bright, but throughout most of the year, when you look around and find a really bright spot… that’s Jupiter. If you get a small telescope and point to it, you’ll probably not only see the planet but also the four biggest of its dozens of moons – Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. Europa is visible in the Cassini picture below (the dot in the lower left), and is definitely my favourite moon of the solar system, enough to warrant a future ”The Beautiful Cosmos” post.

The Beautiful Cosmos: Our Moon

The cosmos is fantastic. Such beauty lie in such basic features as the craters of our own gray moon, constantly hanging in the sky and freaking me out.

This picture may not look so different from many other fantastic Moon photos out there, not to mention the Chinese moon map I wrote about last month, but click it for a higher resolution (3886 x 4576) and you’ll see a fantastic view, a view to truly silence the heavens. The picture is a mosaic of 107 different pictures taken by André van der Hoeven. Support him, go buy the picture as a poster.

And yeah, I got the tip from Phil Plait’s blog. Follow it for more fantastic pictures, news and thoughts on astronomy.

The Beautiful Cosmos: Aurora borealis from space

This is an amazing picture taken by the good folk at the International Space Station (ISS) earlier in February. Moving at such a great speed, the ISS crew experiences a total of 16 Earth dawns every day, constantly catching up with the Earth time zones. The green and blue lights at the Earth horizon is the fantastic aurora borealis, the northern lights, which were especially active this February. Watch this and more photos of Earth from space at Flickr.

The Beautiful Cosmos: Hitchcock in the stars

Through Universe Today I saw this amazing picture of the NGC 3324 nebula, which amazingly resembles late director Alfred Hitchcock‘s famous silhouette – bald head, nose, mouth and all. Although it’s fairly unlikely that Hitchcock somehow got there after his death (especially since the light from the nebula is 7500 years old), it is indeed a beautiful picture. Read more at Universe Today and the European Southern Observatory (which also produced the wonderful picture). At the ESO website you can also see a great video zooming in from viewing the entire Milky Way to the ”tiny” nebula.