where we live january 2010             

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Oddly enough, as I was perusing the Hubble space telescope site recently, looking for interesting images, my friend Charles in New Mexico was emailing about a book The Day We Found the Universe by Marcia Bartusiak which I ordered and read right away.  The book describes a period of concentrated discoveries in astrophysics and astronomy between 1900 - 30.   This was when spiral galaxies like the Milky Way were found to be a common occurrence in the universe. 

The two best telescopes on planet Earth at that time were at the Lick Observatory near San Jose and the Mount Wilson Observatory near L.A.  California's inland mountain ranges and dry air provided deep space clarity.

The book described how famous 20th century astronomers had to stand or sit in very uncomfortable positions, basically freezing all night, watching a fixed target on a tracking star to make sure the photos would be in focus.   Most of the best classic b&w photographs of nearby spiral galaxies came from 30 to 40 hour exposures taken over a 3 or 4 night period.                    

These days the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope gathers the minutest quantity of light that is out there, and can see galaxy clusters 7 or more billion light-years away.  Time-space is hard to imagine; our nearest neighbor galaxy Andromeda is 2 million light years away.  Text messaging is definitely out of the question.  

April 2013 note - I recently learned that the Andromeda galaxy will slowly merge with the Milky Way, so some changes are coming in a billion or more years.        

Marcia Bartusiak wrote that cosmologists found that all galaxies everywhere are still 'surfing the wave' of the residual energy of the Big Bang, moving outwards & away from each other.  So far it appears that the 'empty space' in which our galaxy has been continually expanding for 13 billion years is limitless...   

Have to admit, the universe as depicted in these NASA images is utterly incomprehensible.  

NASA commentary in grey text is from the website http://hubblesite.org/gallery/wallpaper/ and my comments are in yellow.    

March 2015 addition - please note that almost all images of galaxies show other galaxies in the background.   

Supernova remnants A ribbon of gas, a very thin section of a supernova remnant caused by a stellar explosion that occurred more than 1,000 years ago floats in our galaxy. The supernova that created it was probably the brightest star ever seen by humans.  In the background are not stars, but galaxies.
Spiral Galaxy NGC 3370  Intricate spiral arms contain areas of new star formation in this dusty galaxy which lies 100 million light-years away and is home to a supernova that appeared in 1994.
Sombrero Galaxy M104 A brilliant white core is encircled by thick dust lanes in this spiral galaxy, seen edge-on. The galaxy is 50,000 light-years across and 28 million light years from Earth.
Heart of the Whirlpool Galaxy, M51 This image of the center of the Whirlpool Galaxy M51 shows visible light from starlight, and light from the emission of hydrogen. Bright star clusters, highlighted in red, shed light emitted by hydrogen atoms. Intricate "dust spurs" branch out around the main spiral arms.
The large Whirlpool Galaxy is known for its sharply defined spiral arms. Their prominence could be the result of the Whirlpool's gravitational tug-of-war with its smaller companion galaxy (right).

Two spiral galaxies pass by each other like majestic ships in the night. The larger and more massive galaxy is cataloged as NGC 2207 (on the left) and the smaller one on the right is IC 2163.  Strong tidal forces from NGC 2207 have distorted the shape of IC 2163, flinging out stars and gas into long streamers stretching out a hundred thousand light-years toward the right-hand edge of the image. 

This pair of galaxies, NGC 4676, also known as "The Mice" for their tails of stars and gas, have collided and will eventually merge into a single galaxy. Streams of material have been tugged out of the galaxies by the force of gravity, triggering new starbirth.  This is one of hundreds of interacting and merging galaxies known in our nearby universe.   (don't miss the galaxies in the background)
Gas released by a dying star races across space at more than 600,000 miles an hour, forming the delicate shape of a celestial butterfly. This nebula is also known as NGC 6302 or the Bug Nebula.
Deep Space Survey Band Abell 1689 is one of the most massive galaxy clusters known. The gravity of its trillion stars, plus dark matter, acts like a 2-million-light-year-wide "lens" in space. The gravitational lens bends and magnifies the light of galaxies far behind it.
Dust Band Around the Nucleus of "Black Eye Galaxy".  Messier 64 has a spectacular dark band of absorbing dust in front of the galaxy's bright nucleus, giving rise to its nicknames of the "Black Eye" or "Evil Eye" galaxy.  M64 is well known among amateur astronomers.  It was the first galaxy cataloged in the 18th century by French astronomer Charles Messier (1730-1817).  M64 resides roughly 17 million light-years from Earth. 
The Cat's Eye Nebula, one of the first planetary nebulae discovered, also has one of the most complex forms known to this kind of nebula. Eleven rings or shells of gas make up the Cat's Eye.
The Crab Nebula is a supernova remnant; it is all that remains of a tremendous stellar explosion.

Observers in China and Japan recorded the supernova nearly 1,000 years ago, in 1054.

A pillar of gas in the Carina Nebula is bathed in the light of hot massive stars. 

Radiation and fast winds from the stars sculpt the pillar and cause new star formation within it.

immediate and distant Suns within the Milky Way  
As Saturn takes its 29-year journey around the Sun, its tilt allows us to see its rings from different perspectives. Saturn's tilt also gives it seasons. The lowest image on the left shows the northern hemisphere's autumn, while the uppermost right image shows the winter.
Plumes of glowing hydrogen blast from the central nucleus of M82. The pale, star-like objects are clusters of tens to hundreds of thousands of stars.
Astronaut Michael Good rides Atlantis' robotic arm to the exact position he needs to be to continue work on the Hubble Space Telescope on May 17, 2009, during Servicing Mission 4. In addition to installing two new instruments and repairing two others, the mission involved replacements to Hubble's batteries, Fine Guidance Sensors, and protective blankets, among with other upgrades and fixes.
A close-up of Astronaut John Grunsfeld shows the reflection of Astronaut Andrew Feustel, perched on the robotic arm and taking the photo. The pair teamed together on three of the five spacewalks during Servicing Mission 4 in May 2009.
Hubble Space Telescope, with a 15 year operational history so far. 

 

When up is down..... more photos from the deep space survey

spiral galaxies, common as pennies it seems

A billowing tower of gas and dust rises from the stellar nursery known as the Eagle Nebula. This small piece of the Eagle Nebula is 57 trillion miles long (91.7 trillion km).

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