Space becomes sonified in this visualization of a cluster of galaxies imaged by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. Time flows left to right, and the frequency of sound changes from bottom to top, ranging from 30 to 1,000 hertz. Objects near the bottom of the image produce lower notes, while those near the top produce higher ones. Most of the visible specks are galaxies housing countless stars. A few individual stars shine brightly in the foreground. Stars and compact galaxies create short, clear tones, while sprawling spiral galaxies emit longer notes that change pitch. The higher density of galaxies near the center of the image – the heart of this galaxy cluster, known as RXC J0142.9+4438 – results in a swell of mid-range tones halfway through the video. Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys and Wide Field Camera 3 acquired this image on August 13, 2018.
Here’s the original Hubble image of galaxy cluster RXC J0142.9+4438, later “sonified” by Russo and Santaguida. NASA wrote: “Galaxies abound in this spectacular Hubble image; spiral arms swirl in all colors and orientations, and fuzzy ellipticals can be seen speckled across the frame as softly glowing smudges on the sky. Each visible speck of a galaxy is home to countless stars. A few stars closer to home shine brightly in the foreground, while a massive galaxy cluster nestles at the very center of the image; an immense collection of maybe thousands of galaxies, all held together by the relentless force of gravity.” Read more about this image, which is via ESA/ Hubble & NASA, RELICS.
Bottom line: Musicians and scientists turned a Hubble Space Telescope image – of galaxy cluster RXC J0142.9+4438 – into music.
That is so lovely.
It’s only just over half a minute long but is still precious!
There was such a good response to the article on the Hubble that I published on April 27th that it was an easy decision to republish the article that was presented on the BBC website on the 24th, and this time the photographs can be downloaded.
By Jonathan Amos, Science correspondent, 24 April 2020
It’s 30 years ago to the day that the Hubble telescope was launched – and to celebrate its birthday, the veteran observatory has produced another astonishing image of the cosmos.
This one is of a star-forming region close to our Milky Way Galaxy, about 163,000 light-years from Earth.
The larger object is the nebula NGC 2014; its companion is called NGC 2020.
But astronomers have nicknamed the scene the “Cosmic Reef” because it resembles an undersea world.
[There is an audio by Antonella Nota that is a little under 10 minutes long. I cannot embed it into this post for some unclear reason. Go here if you want to listen to it! It’s well worth listening to.]
Antonella Nota: “It’s called the people’s telescope because it brought the Universe to the people”
Famously blighted by blurred vision at the outset of its mission in 1990, Hubble was eventually repaired and upgraded.
The remarkable pictures it has taken of planets, stars, and galaxies have transformed our view of the cosmos.
Indeed, there are those who think Hubble is the most important scientific tool ever built.
It’s still far from retirement.
The US space agency (Nasa), which runs the observatory in partnership with the European Space Agency (Esa), says operations will be funded for as long as they remain productive.
Last year, its data resulted in almost 1,000 scientific papers being published – so it continues to stand at the forefront of discovery.
Engineers obviously keep a watching brief on the health of Hubble’s various systems. Pleasingly, all four instruments onboard – the two imagers and two spectrographs – work at full tilt.
In the past, the telescope’s Achilles heel has been the six gyroscopes that help turn and point the facility, maintaining a rock-steady gaze at targets on the sky.
These devices have periodically failed down the years, and during their final servicing mission in 2009 space shuttle astronauts were tasked with replacing all six.
Three have subsequently shut down again, but Nasa project scientist Dr Jennifer Wiseman says this is not yet an issue for serious concern.
“Nominally, we need three gyroscopes, but we can operate on just one due to the ingenuity of the engineers,” she asserted.
There’s a quiet confidence that Hubble can keep working well into the 2020s. Its supposed “successor” – the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) – is due for launch next year, but the presence in orbit of this more modern observatory will in truth merely just extend capability; it won’t make Hubble redundant.
That’s because the new facility has been designed to see the cosmos at longer wavelengths of light than Hubble. The duo will be complementary and will on occasion actually pursue targets together to get a fuller perspective.
This is an exciting prospect for astronomers everywhere – but especially for those in Europe where Hubble has been such a rewarding endeavour, says Esa project scientist Dr Antonella Nota.
“From the memorandum of understanding there was a guarantee that European astronomers would get 15% of observing time for the duration of the mission. If I look back at how much time European astronomers got – on average it’s 22%. And it is a peer-reviewed process so we never needed to put a finger on the scales. European astronomers are creative; they’re smart; they’re doing leading-edge science,” she told BBC News.
What has Hubble contributed to science?
It’s a bit of a cliche, but Hubble has truly been a “discovery machine”.
Before the telescope launched in 1990, astronomers didn’t know whether the Universe was 10 billion years old or 20 billion years old.
Hubble’s survey of pulsating stars narrowed the uncertainty, and we now know the age extremely well, at 13.8 billion.
The observatory played a central role in revealing the accelerating expansion of the cosmos – a Nobel Prize-winning breakthrough – and it provided the definitive evidence for the existence of super-massive black holes at the centre of galaxies.
It’s amazing to think that when Hubble launched, scientists had yet to detect the first exoplanet, the name given to a planet orbiting a star other than our Sun. Today, Hubble is pioneering the study of these far-off worlds, examining their atmospheres to try to gauge their nature.
And although the sparkling eight-metre-class ground-based telescopes can now match – and even exceed – Hubble’s skill in certain fields of study, the space telescope remains peerless in going super-deep.
Its so-called Deep Field observations in which it stared at a small patch of sky for days on end to identify the existence of very distant, extremely faint galaxies is one of the towering achievements in astronomy.
These studies have shown us what the Universe was like just a few hundred million years after the Big Bang. Only JWST, with its finely-tuned infrared detectors, will go deeper still.
Kathryn Sullivan was one of the astronauts onboard Space Shuttle Discovery when it released Hubble into its 612km-high orbit on 25 April, 1990 – a day she recounts in a recent book, Handprints On Hubble.
“Hubble’s scientific impact has just been immense. But what I had not really appreciated until I started writing my book was the extent to which Hubble – because of its gorgeous images and their mind-bending implications – has really permeated popular culture,” she told BBC News.
“I see Hubble on the side of U-Haul (rental) trailers, on tattoos, on lunchboxes, on shirts, in advertisements, almost ubiquitously.
“And I think part of that is down to Hubble coming into service just as the internet was becoming the thing we now know it to be.
“That’s put the pictures right in front of people.”
This is the most amazing invention and regular missions to service the telescope including regular updates to the technology have kept it current.
It has produced the most distant and beautiful photographs. It has also refined our knowledge of when the universe came into existence – 13.8 billion years ago.
My how the years go by!
Back in 2010 I wrote about the Hubble, wishing it Happy Birthday!
Now here we are in 2020 and, again, I want to feature this most amazing space telescope ever.
The thirtieth anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope was on the 24th April, 2020, just three days ago.
The challenge is that the photographs that go with the article are not permitted to be shared with you. So I have grabbed some others that, apparently, are alright.
How the Hubble Space Telescope opened our eyes to the first galaxies of the universe
April 24, 2020
By Professor Rodger Thompson, Professor of Astronomy, University of Arizona
The Hubble Space Telescope launched on the 24th of April, 30 years ago. It’s an impressive milestone especially as its expected lifespan was just 10 years.
One of the primary reasons for the Hubble telescope’s longevity is that it can be serviced and improved with new observational instruments through Space Shuttle visits.
When Hubble, or HST, first launched, its instruments could observe ultraviolet light with wavelengths shorter than the eye can see, as well as optical light with wavelengths visible to humans. A maintenance mission in 1997 added an instrument to observe near infrared light, which are longer wavelengths than people can see. Hubble’s new infrared eyes provided two new major capabilities: the ability to see farther into space than before and see deeper into the dusty regions of star formation.
I am an astrophysicist at the University of Arizona who has used near infrared observations to better understand how the universe works, from star formation to cosmology. Some 35 years ago, I was given the chance to build a near infrared camera and spectrometer for Hubble. It was the chance of a lifetime. The camera my team designed and developed has changed the way humans see and understand the universe. The instrument was built at Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colorado, under our direction.
Seeing further and earlier
Edwin Hubble, HST’s namesake, discovered in the early 1900s that the universe is expanding and that the light from distant galaxies was shifted to longer, redder wavelengths, a phenomenon called the redshift. The greater the distance, the larger the shift. This is because the further away an object is, the longer it takes for the light to reach us here on Earth and the more the universe has expanded in that time.
The Hubble ultraviolet and optical instruments had taken images of the most distant galaxies ever seen, known as the Northern Hubble Deep Field, or NHDF, which were released in 1996. These images, however, had reached their distance limit due to the redshift, which had shifted all of the light of the most distant galaxies out of the visible and into the infrared.
One of the new instruments added to Hubble in the second maintenance mission has the awkward name, the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer, NICMOS, pronounced “Nick Moss.” The near infrared cameras on NICMOS observed regions of the NHDF and discovered even more distant galaxies with all of their light in the near infrared.
Astronomers have the privilege of watching things happen in the past which they call the “lookback time.” Our best measurement of the age of the universe is 13.7 billion years. The distance that light travels in one year is called a light year. The most distant galaxies observed by NICMOS were at a distance of almost 13 billion light years. This meant that the light that NICMOS detected had been traveling for 13 billion years and showed what the galaxies looked like 13 billion years ago, a time when the universe was only about 5% of its current age. These were some of the first galaxies ever created and were forming new stars at rates that were more than a thousand times the rate at which most galaxies form stars in the current universe.
Hidden by dust
Although astronomers have studied star formation for decades, many questions remain. Part of the problem is that most stars are formed in clouds of molecules and dust. The dust absorbs the ultraviolet and most of the optical light emitted by forming stars, making it difficult for Hubble’s ultraviolet and optical instruments to study the process.
The longer, or redder, the wavelength of the light, the less is absorbed. That is why sunsets, where the light must pass through long lengths of dusty air, appear red.
The near infrared, however, has an even easier time passing through dust than the red optical light. NICMOS can look into star formation regions with the superior image quality of Hubble to determine the details of where the star formation occurs. A good example is the iconic Hubble image of the Eagle Nebula, also known as the pillars of creation.
The optical image shows majestic pillars which appear to show star formation over a large volume of space. The NICMOS image, however, shows a different picture. In the NICMOS image, most of the pillars are transparent with no star formation. Stars are only being formed at the tip of the pillars. The optical pillars are just empty dust reflecting the light of a group of nearby stars.
The dawning of the age of infrared
When NICMOS was added into the HST in 1997 NASA had no plans for a future infrared space mission. That rapidly changed as the results from NICMOS became apparent. Based on the data from NICMOS, scientists learned that fully formed galaxies existed in the universe much earlier than expected. The NICMOS images also confirmed that the expansion of the universe is accelerating rather than slowing down as previously thought. The NHDF infrared images were followed by the Hubble Ultra Deep Field images in 2005, which further showed the power of near infrared imaging of distant young galaxies. So NASA decided to invest in the James Webb Space Telescope, or JWST, a telescope much larger than HST and completely dedicated to infrared observations.
On Hubble, a near infrared imager was added to the third version of the Wide Field camera which was installed in May of 2009. This camera used an improved version of the NICMOS detector arrays that had more sensitivity and a wider field of view. The James Webb Space Telescope has much larger versions of the NICMOS detector arrays that have more wavelength coverage than the previous versions.
The James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to be launched in March 2021, followed by the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, form the bulk of future space missions for NASA. These programs were all spawned by the near infrared observations by HST. They were enabled by the original investment for a near infrared camera and spectrometer to give Hubble its infrared eyes. With the James Webb Space Telescope, astronomers expect to see the very first galaxies that formed in the universe.
Rodger I. Thompson was the Principal Investigator for the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer, NICMOS. He was responsible for the execution of a contract to Arizona Board of Regents from NASA to deliver NICMOS as a Hubble Space Telescope Instrument and carry out a scientific investigation with it. Prof. Thompson received summer salary from this contract at his University pay rate during the execution of the contract which ended in 2004. Prof. Thompson is not currently receiving any external funding.
Now for two YouTube videos.
The first is a celebration of the 30th anniversary.
And the second is slightly longer but conveys images taken from the telescope. I have no doubt that you will love them as we did!
Both these videos are beyond words! That we are alive today and can share these videos on this blog is stupendous!
The last in this recent series on me examining my navel!
Dear Mr. Cosmos,
Clearly, I have no idea how many letters you receive from us funny inhabitants on Planet Earth. Can’t imagine you get floods of them but then neither can I imagine that this is the first one you have ever received.
Why can I not imagine this is to be your first? Simply, because us funny folk on this incredible planet of yours have been around for quite a while. I mean that over in that country we folk call Israel there has been found evidence of “control of fire by humans nearly 790,000 years ago.”
Just realised that me saying “quite a while” and writing of “790,000 years ago” will be utterly meaningless, in terms of scale, to how you describe your past. Just as it is utterly meaningless for me to contemplate that in cosmological terms the ‘Big Bang”, generally recognised as the start of your Universe, was, give or take, some 13.8 billion years ago.
I wish I could really get an idea of what a million years feels like, let alone a billion years. Ah well!
Let me stay with this notion of stuff being meaningless.
My dear, long-time friend Dan Gomez sent me a link to an item that had been published on the Science Alert website. It was about how the NASA Hubble space telescope had recently embarked on a new mission. Or in the words of that article:
Hubble Just Revealed Thousands of Hidden Galaxies in This Jaw-Dropping Photo
By Michelle Starr, September 13th, 2018
Hubble has embarked on a new observation mission: to study the farthest reaches of the Universe, using some of the most massive objects in the Universe – galaxy clusters.
And this newly released picture shows how.
At the centre is Abell 370, a cluster of a few hundred galaxies located around 4 billion light-years from Earth. And arrayed around it, never seen before, are thousands of galaxies, out even farther in the depths of space.
The reason we can see them now is because of Abell 370. All those hundreds of galaxies, clustered so close together, and the associated dark matter, create an immense field of gravity.
When the light behind that field passes through it, the gravitational force is so strong that it bends the path of the light. This creates a magnifying effect called gravitational lensing, allowing us to see objects we usually can’t.
Abell 370 is the first of these clusters.
Here is one of those photographs,
And an explanation of what we are looking at:
In the image, you can see the galaxies in Abell 370. The brightest yellowish white ones are huge, containing hundreds of billions of stars. The bluer ones are smaller, spiral galaxies, like the Milky Way, with younger populations of stars. And the dimmer, yellower galaxies are older, with ageing star populations.
The galaxies behind Abell 370 appear as smeared lines of light. The most spectacular, to the lower left of the centre, is nicknamed the Dragon (possibly for its resemblance to a Chinese dragon), with its head to the left. It’s made up of five images of the same spiral galaxy, magnified and stretched by the gravitational lens.
Mr. Cosmos, you know a little earlier I was remarking about how it is impossible to comprehend the age of the Universe. Well, dear Sir, it’s just as impossible to comprehend your distances.
Take Abell 370 out there some 4 billion light years from Planet Earth! I really wanted to have a go at understanding that distance.
First, I looked up the distance in miles that is represented by one light-year. Answer: one light year is a tad under six trillion miles.
Just one, let alone some 4 billion of them!
Next, I looked up the distance of our very familiar Big Dipper constellation. You must have heard of it? This one!
Turns out that even this very familiar sight in our night sky ranges from 78 to 123 light years away. Average that as 100 light years and, bingo, you are looking at this familiar cluster of stars that is 590 trillion miles away!
So, dear Mr. Cosmos, that puts your Abell 370 constellation about a distance that is 10 million times more distant than our Big Dipper!
I wrote above that “I really wanted to understand that distance.” In reference to how far that Abell 370 constellation truly was. My conclusion is that I will never, ever understand that distance.
Anyone able to help?
Tomorrow, Mr. Cosmos, the closing page two of my letter to you.
Long-term readers of this place will possibly recall that between April, 1989 and June, 1994 I lived on a Tradewind 33 sailing yacht Songbird of Kent. I have written before about those days.
When sailing at night when the sky is clear it is impossible not to feel deeply connected to the stars above one’s head.
My logbook for Songbird of Kent reports that at noon on Wednesday, 1st June, 1994, I departed the yacht harbour at Horta in The Azores bound for Plymouth, South-West England. Plymouth was 1,257 nautical miles (2,329km/1,447 statute miles) from Horta.
The logbook has an entry for the 6th June.
0400 Lat. 43 deg 25 minutes North, Long 22 deg 3 minutes West. Engine Off. Still no wind but must sleep after 19 hours of helming. 840 miles to run. Wind 2 knots from SW. Baro 1027 mb, Viz Good.
The visibility was wonderful and seeing the stars up in the night sky all around me, as in all 360 degrees about me, practically down to the horizon on this moonless night is an image still etched in my mind.
A new study – based on supercomputer simulations – reveals that each one of us may be made in part from matter that passes from one galaxy to another.
Sagan famously said that we are made of star stuff. He meant the carbon, nitrogen and oxygen atoms in our bodies, as well as atoms of all other heavy elements, were created inside stars. Yet Sagan’s expression of this idea, which quickly became a cornerstone of popular culture, might not take the concept far enough. According to astrophysicists at Northwestern University, our origins are much less local than previously thought. In fact, according to their analysis – which they say is the first of its kind – we’re not just star stuff. We’re galaxy stuff.
This study is being published on July 26, 2017 (July 27 in the U.K.) by the peer-reviewed journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
The Northwestern researchers found that up to half of the matter in our Milky Way galaxy may come from distant galaxies. As a result, each one of us may be made in part from extragalactic matter. That is, atoms of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and so on in our bodies may be created not just by stars in our own Milky Way galaxy, but by stars in far-flung galaxies.
They arrived at this conclusion using supercomputer simulations. The study required the equivalent of several million hours of continuous computing.
The simulations show that supernova explosions eject great quantities of gas from galaxies, which causes the atoms made inside stars to be transported from one galaxy to another via powerful galactic winds. According to their statement, intergalactic transfer is a newly identified phenomenon, which, they say, requires supercomputer simulations in order to be understood. According to these astrophysicists, this understanding is critical for knowing how galaxies evolve … and hence for knowing our own place in the universe.
Daniel Anglés-Alcázar is a postdoctoral fellow in Northwestern’s Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics (CIERA). He led the study, and he said:
It is likely that much of the Milky Way’s matter was in other galaxies before it was kicked out by a powerful wind, traveled across intergalactic space and eventually found its new home in the Milky Way.
Given how much of the matter out of which we formed may have come from other galaxies, we could consider ourselves space travelers or extragalactic immigrants.
Space is vast. Galaxies are located at almost inconceivable distances from each other. So, Alcázar and his team said, even though galactic winds propagate at several hundred kilometers per CIERA second, the process of intergalactic transfer occurs over billions of years.
As always, this new research built on earlier studies. Northwestern’s Claude-André Faucher-Giguère and his research group, along with a unique collaboration called Feedback In Realistic Environments (FIRE), had developed numerical simulations that produced realistic 3-D models of galaxies. These simulations followed a galaxy’s formation from just after the Big Bang to the present day.
Anglés-Alcázar then developed state-of-the-art algorithms to mine this wealth of data. In this way, he and his team were able to quantify how galaxies acquire matter from the universe.
The scientists say the prediction of intergalactic transfer can now be tested. The Northwestern team plans to collaborate with observational astronomers who are working with the Hubble Space Telescope and ground-based observatories to test the simulation predictions.
Bottom line: Supercomputer simulations suggest that each one of us may be made in part from extragalactic matter. Hence, we are galaxy stuff.
I subscribe to EarthSky and the link to this image and background information was in yesterday’s daily summary. The mind-blowing facts are that the Eagle Nebula is found in the constellation Serpens and is 6,500 light-years away from our dear planet. To put that into context, that is 38,210 trillion miles from us. The star cluster associated with the nebula is about 5.5 million years old.
EarthSky has the very interesting text of the NASA Press Release regarding this new, high-resolution image.
For me, I just want to let that image wash over me. Not least because it reminds me that I am a very lucky person to be living at a time when one can lose oneself in such sights.
Here’s the image again, this time without the explanation.
Five days of writing about love and none the clearer!
So here I am penning Friday’s post about love. You will recall that on Monday I wrote:
In last week’s telephone conversation MaryAnne spoke so easily about love that I promised her that I would dedicate a post on Learning from Dogs to her.
In fact, rather than one post, I’m setting myself the challenge of writing about love for the entire week, i.e. Monday to Friday. I will readily admit that over and beyond today’s post, I don’t have more than the vaguest inkling of how the week will pan out. You have been warned!
Ironically, up until yesterday things fell into place pretty easily. But I must confess that today’s post has been a struggle. I read the love quotes over on the Brainy Quote website to find some inspiration. None found. Not that there weren’t many, many beautiful sayings but the incredible spread of quotations just magnified the difficulty of pinning down something to write about.
Then I did a web search for ‘love stories’. Came across the story of The Lost Wallet. It was moving but seemed too perfect a love story – try it yourself if you want.
Then back to the Brainy Quote website and once more meandered through the love quotes. Saw this one.
For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.Carl Sagan
That struck a chord. A few hours earlier I had been sorting out my photographs and came across this one.
I had grabbed this image a month ago from the announcement on ESA’s website:
19 April 2013 New views of the Horsehead Nebula and its turbulent environment have been unveiled by ESA’s Herschel space observatory and the NASA/ESA Hubble space telescope.
The Horsehead Nebula lies in the constellation Orion, about 1300 light-years away, and is a popular target for amateur and professional astronomers alike. It sits just to the south of star Alnitak, the easternmost of Orion’s famous three-star belt, and is part of the vast Orion Molecular Cloud complex.
The new far-infrared Herschel view shows in spectacular detail the scene playing out around the Horsehead Nebula at the right-hand side of the image, where it seems to surf like a ‘white horse’ in the waves of turbulent star-forming clouds.
It appears to be riding towards another favourite stopping point for astrophotographers: NGC 2024, also known as the Flame Nebula. This star-forming region appears obscured by dark dust lanes in visible light images, but blazes in full glory in the far-infrared Herschel view.
The image is staggeringly beautiful yet a potent reminder that man, even the totality of our planet, is such an irrelevance in the scheme of things. We are surrounded by beauty both within and without, yet the fragility of our existance is a ‘vastness’, both literally and psychologically.
Guess what! Writing that last sentence brought to mind a photograph that I took Wednesday afternoon. As part of the Land Stewardship course Jean and I are taking, the class had gone to the Limpy Creek Botanical area in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest not far from Grants Pass, Oregon. Here’s that photograph.
Reflect on the delicate beauty and vulnerability of that small wild flower. A perfect metaphor for the entire natural world.
So I am going to close this week’s perambulation through love with the thought that if we don’t love our planet with all the ardour and passion of a teenager’s first romance, all those other loves in our lives will ultimately become irrelevant.
Copyright: ESA/Herschel/PACS, SPIRE/N. Schneider, Ph. André, V. Könyves (CEA Saclay, France) for the “Gould Belt survey” Key Programme
Description: Stunning new view from ESA’s Herschel space observatory of the iconic Horsehead Nebula in the context of its surroundings. The image is a composite of the wavelengths of 70 microns (blue), 160 microns (green) and 250 microns (red), and covers 4.5×1.5 degrees. The image is oriented with northeast towards the left of the image and southwest towards the right.The Horsehead Nebula resides in the constellation Orion, about 1300 light-years away, and is part of the vast Orion Molecular Cloud complex. The Horsehead appears to rise above the surrounding gas and dust in the far right-hand side of this scene, and points towards the bright Flame Nebula. Intense radiation streaming away from newborn stars heats up the surrounding dust and gas, making it shine brightly to Herschel’s infrared-sensitive eyes (shown in pink and white in this image).To the left, the panoramic view also covers two other prominent sites where massive stars are forming, NGC 2068 and NGC 2071.
Extensive networks of cool gas and dust weave throughout the scene in the form of red and yellow filaments, some of which may host newly forming low-mass stars.
Don’t know about you but I found that description a little dry, so to speak.
By Jonathan Amos, Science correspondent, BBC News.
Europe’s Herschel space telescope has imaged one of the most popular subjects in the sky – the Horsehead Nebula – and its environs.
The distinctively shaped molecular gas cloud is sited some 1,300 light-years from Earth in the Constellation Orion.
It is in a region of space undergoing active star formation – something Herschel has been most keen to study.
The Hubble space observatory has also returned to the Horsehead scene, to celebrate 23 years in orbit.
Together, these two great facilities give scientists a much broader insight into what is taking place in this familiar patch of the heavens.
“You need images at all scales and at all wavelengths in astronomy in order to understand the big picture and the small detail,” said Prof Matt Griffin, the principal investigator on Herschel’s SPIRE instrument.
“In this new Herschel view, the Horsehead looks like a little feature – a pimple. In reality, of course, it is a very large entity in its own right, but in this great sweep of a picture from Herschel you can see that the nebula is set within an even larger, molecular-cloud complex where there is a huge amount of material and a great range of conditions,” the Cardiff University, UK, researcher told BBC News.
To provide a sense of scale, the Horsehead Nebula, also known in the catalogues as “Barnard 33”, is about five light-years “tall”.
Hubble sees the Horsehead in near-infrared light. Herschel, on the other hand, goes to much longer wavelengths. This allows it to see the glow coming directly from cold gas and dust – the material that will eventually collapse under gravity to form the next generation of stars.
Scientists are particularly keen to understand the mechanisms that drive the production of the biggest stars – objects much more massive than our own Sun that form relatively fast, burn bright but brief lives, and interact strongly with their environment, influencing the next round of star formation.
Oh, and ponder on how far away from Earth is that Constellation Orion. Remember it was stated as 1,300 light-years.
Well, one light-year is just under 10 million, million kilometres (or about 6 million, million miles). Apparently defined by the IAU, or to give its the full name, the International Astronomical Union, a light-year is the distance that light travels in a vacuum in one Julian year.
So brace yourself! 1,300 light-years is just under 13,000,000,000,000,000 kilometres or in old money, 7,800,000,000,000,000 miles.
Rather puts pottering to the shops in Grants Pass into perspective!
Venus has been referred to as the sister or even twin to Earth by many because of its similar chemical composition, density and size. That, however, is where the similarities end. Venus is not only the hottest planet in the solar system, but also the brightest. Both of these characteristics are the result of the atmosphere that surrounds the planet, which is mainly composed of carbon dioxide and some sulfuric acid. This composition allows for the greenhouse effect to be astronomical causing the planet to have a constant temperature of 864°F. The planet is the brightest because the clouds, composed of sulfur dioxide and sulfuric acid, are highly reflective. The pressure of the atmosphere that surrounds Venus is 90 times that of the atmosphere around Earth, crushing any probes that land on Venus in a matter of hours.
Depending on where you live on Planet Earth you will see the transit on the 5th June, the 6th June or not at all!
(That additional data referred to above may be found here.)
That transit diagram plus mounds of other interesting stuff is on the Transit of Venus website and on that website this page has the details allowing you to work out what day and time the transit occurs depending on where you are.
To close let me be a little cheeky and reproduce, in full, what appeared on the Science Daily website on the 1st May.
Venus to Appear in Once-In-A-Lifetime Event
ScienceDaily (May 1, 2012) — On 5 and 6 June this year, millions of people around the world will be able to see Venus pass across the face of the Sun in what will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
It will take Venus about six hours to complete its transit, appearing as a small black dot on the Sun’s surface, in an event that will not happen again until 2117.
In this month’s Physics World, Jay M Pasachoff, an astronomer at Williams College, Massachusetts, explores the science behind Venus’s transit and gives an account of its fascinating history.
Transits of Venus occur only on the very rare occasions when Venus and Earth are in a line with the Sun. At other times Venus passes below or above the Sun because the two orbits are at a slight angle to each other. Transits occur in pairs separated by eight years, with the gap between pairs of transits alternating between 105.5 and 121.5 years — the last transit was in 2004.
Building on the original theories of Nicolaus Copernicus from 1543, scientists were able to predict and record the transits of both Mercury and Venus in the centuries that followed.
Johannes Kepler successfully predicted that both planets would transit the Sun in 1631, part of which was verified with Mercury’s transit of that year. But the first transit of Venus to actually be viewed was in 1639 — an event that had been predicted by the English astronomer Jeremiah Horrocks. He observed the transit in the village of Much Hoole in Lancashire — the only other person to see it being his correspondent, William Crabtree, in Manchester.
Later, in 1716, Edmond Halley proposed using a transit of Venus to predict the precise distance between Earth and the Sun, known as the astronomical unit. As a result, hundreds of expeditions were sent all over the world to observe the 1761 and 1769 transits. A young James Cook took the Endeavour to the island of Tahiti, where he successfully observed the transit at a site that is still called Point Venus.
Pasachoff expects the transit to confirm his team’s theory about the phenomenon called “the black-drop effect” — a strange, dark band linking Venus’s silhouette with the sky outside the Sun that appears for about a minute starting just as Venus first enters the solar disk.
Pasachoff and his colleagues will concentrate on observing Venus’s atmosphere as it appears when Venus is only half onto the solar disk. He also believes that observations of the transit will help astronomers who are looking for extrasolar planets orbiting stars other than the Sun.
“Doing so verifies that the techniques for studying events on and around other stars hold true in our own backyard.. In other words, by looking up close at transits in our solar system, we may be able to see subtle effects that can help exoplanet hunters explain what they are seeing when they view distant suns,” Pasachoff writes.
Not content with viewing this year’s transit from Earth, scientists in France will be using the Hubble Space Telescope to observe the effect of Venus’s transit very slightly darkening the Moon. Pasachoff and colleagues even hope to use Hubble to watch Venus passing in front of the Sun as seen from Jupiter — an event that will take place on 20 September this year — and will be using NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which is orbiting Saturn, to see a transit of Venus from Saturn on 21 December.
“We are fortunate in that we are truly living in a golden period of planetary transits and it is one of which I hope astronomers can take full advantage,” he writes.
Editors note: Looking directly at the sun can cause severe and permanent eye damage. Do not look directly at Venus’ transit of the sun.
I’m going to republish this in full on Monday, 4th June at the usual Learning from Dogs release time of 0700 UTC so to increase the odds of all my readers who would like to see the Transit having the information in good time!