November 30, 2022

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25 space photos that can change the way you see our universe and make you feel so small

25 space photos that can change the way you see our universe and make you feel so small

Webb captured the star-forming region of the Tarantula Nebula in this mosaic image spanning 340 light-years.NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team

Let’s start near the house. Even here, you can see that the space is huge—more than you might realize. This is the Earth on the right, and the Moon is the small spot on the left.

The black image in space shows a small dim Earth on the right and somewhere a hidden faint moon

NASA’s Lucy spacecraft captured this image of the Earth and Moon from a distance of 890,000 km on Oct. 13, 2022.NASA/Goddard/SwRI

Jupiter is much further away and much larger.

Jupiter rises in the dark with bands of orange, white, and purple-brown

Jupiter, as imaged by the Juno spacecraft, in September 2017.NASA / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald Eichstädt / Seán Doran

The most famous hurricane on Jupiter alone, the Great Red Spot, is larger than Earth.

Jupiter's Great Red Spot spinning vortex animation

Scientists animated this Juno image of the Great Red Spot based on velocity data from the spacecraft and models of the storm’s winds.NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald Eichstadt / Justin Cowart

But the sun dwarfs all the planets. In this image of a small portion of the sun’s surface, each cell of boiling plasma is about the size of Texas.

Inui Solar Surface Plasma Telescope

Film from the Inouye Solar Telescope shows how the sun’s plasma moves across its surface.NSO / NSF / AURA

The planets in our solar system are more fascinating and complex than you might think. Saturn isn’t the only one with rings. See the rings of Uranus below?

The rings of the planet Uranus by NASA PIA17306

An infrared view of Uranus over two days in July 2004.Lawrence Srumovsky, University of Wisconsin-Madison/W.W. Keck Observatory

Neptune also has a set of rings.

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A near infrared webcam (NIRCam) image of Neptune and its rings.  Neptune has 14 known satellites, and seven of them are visible in this image.

James Webb Space Telescope image of Neptune and its rings. Neptune has 14 known satellites, and seven of them are visible in this image.NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

Other planets have aurora borealis too, just like the aurora borealis and the australian aurora here on Earth.

Saturn twilight

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope imaged Saturn’s southern aurora in ultraviolet light on January 24, 26, and 28, 2005.NASA/Hubble/Z. Levi and J. Clark

In this infrared image from the James Webb Space Telescope, you can see faint rings circling Jupiter and the aurora borealis glowing at its poles.

Wide view of Jupiter, taken by Webb.  The hazy patches in the lower background are likely galaxies.

A wide view of Jupiter captured by the James Webb Space Telescope.NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Jupiter ERS team; Image processing by Ricardo Hueso (UPV/EHU) and Judy Schmidt

Some of Saturn’s and Jupiter’s moons show clear signs of underground oceans, where scientists believe alien life could lurk. On Enceladus, plumes of water are seen shooting up through cracks in the surface ice.

Dark moon horizon with white jets shooting into space

In this real-time image from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, backlighting from the sun spectacularly illuminates Enceladus’ jets of water ice.NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

These are the only worlds we know about. According to NASA, every star has, on average, at least one planet. You can see one orbiting the star in this image. The planet is a small blob to the right, within a disk of material surrounding the star.

The image shows an orange star surrounded by an orange disk of material with a small dotted planet

A star surrounded by a circumplanetary disk, with a planet visible at the right, captured by the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array.ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO) / Benisty et al.

Moreover, new stars are being born all the time in nurseries where thick clouds of gas and dust collapse into stars. The famous Pillars of Creation is one such nursery.

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The Eagle Nebula: Pillars of Creation, a veil of dust and gas forming stars against a cosmic blue-purple and green background

Known as the Pillars of Creation, these towering tendrils of cosmic dust and gas lie at the heart of the Eagle Nebula.NASA, ESA and Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope recently imaged the plumes in strong infrared for the first time, revealing new stars hidden behind the dust.

The Pillars of Creation are laid out in a kaleidoscope of color in NASA's James Webb Space Telescope's near-infrared light show.  The pillars look like arches and spiers rising from the desert landscape, but they are filled with translucent gas and dust, and are constantly changing.  This is a region where young stars are forming -- or just barely bursting from their dusty cocoons as they continue to form.

Pillars of Creation in near infrared light, imaged by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.NASA, European Space Agency, Canadian Space Agency, STScI; Joseph DiPasquale (STScI), Anton M Coquemore (STScI), Alyssa Pagan (STScI).

New stars also form when galaxies collide, slowly moving past each other and squeezing the gas and dust that fills interstellar space. Space telescopes have captured many collisions like this, including the three merged galaxies below.

Three intertwined galaxies merge in black space

A three-galaxy merger captured by the Hubble Space Telescope.ESA/Hubble & NASA, W. Keel, Dark Energy Survey, DOE, FNAL, DECam, CTIO, NOIRLab/NSF/AURA, SDSS Acknowledgments: J. Schmidt

Stars regularly explode and die as well, giving rise to a powerful and bright supernova.

Supernova remnant of a shiny pink bubble against a background of stars

A bubble of supernova debris, imaged using X-ray data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and optical data from the Hubble Space Telescope.X-rays: NASA/CXC/GSFC/BJ Williams et al. ; Optical: NASA/ESA/STScI

The Hubble Space Telescope recently captured three phases of a supernova at once. The massive object was bending space-time and reflecting three different images of the explosion, at three different points in time.

The Hubble image shows multiple colors of the supernova

The different colors of a cooled supernova at three different stages in its evolution.NASA, ESA, STScI, Wenlei Chen (UMN), Patrick Kelly (UMN), Hubble Frontier Fields

Supernovae often collapse into black holes. You may have seen the first ever photograph of a black hole…

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The first image of the M87 black hole

The first-ever image of a black hole, by the Event Horizon Telescope, was released in April 2019.Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration/Maunakea Observatories via AP

…but have you seen the black hole at the center of our galaxy? Scientists believe that every galaxy has a black hole at its core.

black hole image of orange ring Sagittarius A*

First image of Sagittarius A*, or Sgr A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy.Event Horizon Telescope collaboration

Sometimes black holes also merge, creating supermassive monsters.

This image shows close (left) and wide (right) views of the nuclei of two bright galaxies, each containing a supermassive black hole, in NGC 7727, a galaxy located 89 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Aquarius.

This image shows close (left) and wide (right) views of the nuclei of two bright galaxies, each containing a supermassive black hole, in NGC 7727, a galaxy located 89 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Aquarius.ESO / Voggel et al. ; ESO/VST ATLAS Team. Acknowledgments: Durham University/CASU/WFAU

There are a mind-boggling number of galaxies — as many as 200 billion, astronomers estimate. Each is full of its own stars and planets.

An image taken by the James Webb Quintuple Telescope of Stephane.

The Stephane’s Quintet is shown here taken by the James Webb Space Telescope.NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI

This long-exposure image from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope captures thousands of galaxies. If you held a grain of sand at arm’s length, that would represent the speck of the universe you see in this image.

Galaxies stars in infrared

The first deep-field infrared image from the James Webb Space Telescope, released July 11, 2022.NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

Webb has peered further into the universe than any previous telescope. This goes way back in time, as light takes billions of years to travel from these galaxies.

Tarantula nebula cosmic dust cloud orange-white mesh with stars

Webb captured the star-forming region of the Tarantula Nebula in this mosaic image spanning 340 light-years.NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team

In July, Webb spotted the oldest and most distant galaxy ever discovered. Scientists believe that it appeared 235 million years after the Big Bang. This means that it is closer to the beginning of the universe than we have seen it before.

A color image of CEERS-93316, a galaxy that researchers believe appeared only 235 million years after the Big Bang.

A color image of CEERS-93316, a galaxy that researchers believe appeared only 235 million years after the Big Bang.CEERS / UOE / SOPHIE JEWELL / CLARA POLLOCK

Astronomers only know of two visitors from other star systems: a possible rock called ‘Oumuamua, and a comet that passed the Sun from interstellar space, in 2017 and 2019.

Interstellar Comet C 2019 Q4 sketch

Comet 2I/Borisov, the second interstellar object discovered in our solar system. The blue and red dashes are stars in the background that appear as a line as the comet moves.Gemini Observatory / NSF / AURA / Image composite by Travis Rector

Only two human spacecraft have left our solar system: NASA’s Voyager probes. The first probe took this famous image of Earth on its way out.

Original photo with a pale blue dot

The Pale Blue Dot, image of Earth taken on February 14, 1990 by NASA’s Voyager 1 at a distance of 3.7 billion miles from the Sun.NASA/JPL-Caltech

Yes, Earth, there. Carl Sagan called this point the “pale blue dot,” writing: “This is here. This is home. This is us.” Most of us will experience the rest of the universe only through images.

Image of a pale blue dot with an arrow pointing to the ground

There is land!NASA/JPL-Caltech

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