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Posted on February 3rd, 2015

Reaching Orbit – Stunning Images

The last two months has been so full of beautiful images of celestial bodies that I can’t bring myself to write about anything else. The most striking of these images was of Comet C/2014 Q2, nicknamed Lovejoy, as it made its closest flyby of Earth while orbiting the Sun. Some amazing images were taken of the comet and put together to create an animation of it moving through space that you can see here. It may seem too astounding to be real as the bluish glow is created by the Sun turning ice into gas, making a halo around the rocky structure. Behind the comet is its tail, where gas is blown away by solar wind; and if you watch the animation closely, you can see the gas shift and flow in the solar winds.

Hubble was also in the spotlight when it revisited an old favorite, the Eagle Nebula, which is often referred to as the ‘Pillars of Creation.’ Originally imaged in 1995, it has become an iconic Hubble image. This more recent collection was done at a higher resolution and in a wider view, it was also captured in near-infrared. The near-infrared band creates a very different looking image then the one taken in 1995, since near-infrared light penetrates through a good portion of space’s dust and gas, making the pillars look less dense and more transparent – a much more eerie scene of star creation. These new images are being compared to the originals to detect any changes and to gather more information on the nebula from the higher-resolution version.

A breathtaking mosaic of our neighboring Andromeda galaxy was compiled by the Panchromatic Hubble Andromeda Treasury (PHAT) program. Many of the galaxies imaged by Hubble are very far away, billions of light-years from Earth, and appear so small that they can be captured with few exposures. Since Andromeda is only about 2.5 million light-years from Earth, it appears much larger in the night sky. It took 7,398 exposures over 411 pointings just to capture a portion of the galaxy. The resulting mosaic is the largest composite image ever created using the Hubble Space Telescope. It’s not just a pretty picture however, as the image is being used to map the stars inside the Andromeda galaxy, giving an intergalactic view of cartography. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that NASA will turn it into one of their wall murals.

Just a little off topic, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) released three pop art posters extolling the wonders of visiting planets in our Universe. You can visit Kepler-186-f, “where the grass is always redder on the other side;” or Kepler-16b, “where your shadow always has company.”  They are available to download and print here.

Katie Nelson
Geospatial Ninja
(303) 718-7163

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