Tuesday, 4 November 2008
Galactic Smoke Rings
I had to share this stunning picture with you all, which I saw on Astronomy Picture of the Day. It was taken only last week by the Hubble Space Telescope so it's right at the forefront of our knowledge of what the Universe looks like.
It shows two very different, but neighbouring, galaxies. Each is unusual because of its ring structure but look at how different they are. Apparently, and I'm not a scientist so you'll have to forgive me if I get the detail wrong, the galaxy on the left passed through the one on the right and, just like a pebble hitting a pond, it left behind an outwardly moving 'ripple' of, in this case, incredibly densely packed stars. Astronomers believe that the red patch at the bottom of the blue galaxy marks the original nucleus of the galaxy that was struck.
It must be incredibly exciting to be an astronomer just now. Every month brings dazzling new observations of objects countless light years away - the pair of galaxies above lie 400 MILLION light years away from us - and our understanding of the universe we live in advances. I wish I'd stuck in at science at school now...
Images like these make me glad I'm alive in the 21st century because they tell me about the Universe I live in without needing to be a rocket scientist. They show me how stunningly beautiful it is out there, how unimaginably big it is and how terribly, terribly small we are.
If you want to find out more about galaxies, and even help to catalogue them, take a look at the Galaxy Zoo website.