Top 24 Deep Space Pictures of 2011

By Phil Plait | December 14, 2011 5:30 am

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

Comments (40)

  1. Carey

    I think the star with the crazy bowshock was my favorite.

  2. Chris

    Comet Lovejoy update. You can see its death plunge into the sun by looking at the SOHO LASCO image. It’s the streak on the bottom of the image.

    “Do you see a light Homer?” “Move into the light my son.” “Be strong Marge, he’s gone to a better place.”

  3. BigBadSis

    “Stars die complicated deaths. Even low-mass stars like the one we circle every year don’t just cough in Act 1 and die in Act 3.”

    Of course not, silly. They have to sing a very dramatic aria first.

  4. Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor)

    Arp 273 is my favorite. Very pretty. Also like the observation about the proximity of neighbors at different levels of granularity.

  5. BigBadSis (3): Spoken — um, sung — like a true mezzo soprano.

  6. Tara Li

    I’d have voted for Auriga’s Wheel (Ok, the images were taken in 2007, but not found until June of this year).

    Those who play first-person shooters can hear the voice in their head screaming “HEADSHOT”!

  7. Kees

    I love these pictures! It shows there is still so much to discover out there.
    Just a few comments about Hanny’s Voorwerp: ‘Voorwerp’ is Dutch for ‘Object’, not ‘Thing’. ‘Thing’ would be ‘ding’ in Dutch. Then Hanny’s Voorwerp would be a “Ding in the Universe”, but I don’t think that is what Steve Jobs was talking about… but I’m getting off track now .
    Besides that, Hanny loves music, plays guitar and is a big Queen fan. But her job is a biology teacher at a high school. More about Hanny and the Voorwerp at her personal site:

  8. Slim

    “The Milky Way is among the biggest galaxies in the Universe”

    It is? I always thought it was fairly average– large compared to dwarfs, but tiny compared to ellipticals. Is my generalization wrong? Or is it just because there’s so many more dwarfs that pushes the Milky Way galaxy into a high percentile?

  9. Richard

    “I love the way the central region looks smooth and uniform, but the dust clouds in the arms are patchy, crinkly like the top of a snickerdoodle.”

    Damn you, Phil, now I want a snickerdoodle! Also, I will never, ever get tired of saying “Hanny’s Voorwerp”.

  10. DaveH

    Great pictures, but the text isn’t displaying properly (in Firefox).

  11. Definitely cold star birth in scorpion’s tail is the best.

  12. JeffM

    “The Milky Way is among the biggest galaxies in the Universe”

    Actually, compared to some galaxies, the Milky Way is quite small. We contain about 300 billion stars in a 100,000 light year radius. However, the elliptical galaxy M87 contains nearly 1 trillion stars! And the elliptical galaxy IC1101 contains nearly 100 trillion stars in an area of 6 million light years!

  13. Matthew

    Awesome photographs. A bit scary, the one that looks like a germ growning out of the pitri dish that is space, but other than that, all is beyond well.

  14. Slim (8) & JeffM (12): Most galaxies are far smaller than the Milky Way. Yes, plenty are bigger, but we’re way toward the massive end of the scale, especially for spirals. It’s odd, actually: we have conditions conducive for life on Earth, and we happen to be in a big galaxy. It could be coincidence, or there could b some connection; maybe big galaxies do better for setting up the right circumstances for life. I don’t see how, but two coincidences together are always suspicious.

  15. nobody

    In star vs blackhole, I bet the star was thinking “Oh shhhhiiiiiiiiii…” the whole time.

  16. Mephane

    “It could be coincidence, or there could b some connection; maybe big galaxies do better for setting up the right circumstances for life. I don’t see how, but two coincidences together are always suspicious.”

    I would have thought that the larger a galaxy (the more stars it contains), the larger the chance for a habitable planet to exist there and for life to emerge. I don’t think that the size of a galaxy has a direct effect on the existence of life, but the power of numbers and statistics obviously should mean that larger galaxies are more likely to bear life (or, if you assume that life isn’t that rare on galactic scales, a larger galaxy would contain more planets with life than a smaller one).

  17. Arp 273 is disturbing. It looks like really cheezy art from the 1960’s, like a painting from some bloke who doesn’t understand the first thing about astrophysics. (Of course, that’s a layman’s opinion of the emotional impact: I’m sure it’s real)

  18. Superluminously wonderful selection. Thanks BA. :-)

    I notice that the WISE mission’s facebook page notes that they liked this selection incl. many of their images too! :-)

    Minor nit but there is one thing missing here though – the supernova in M101 from August this year. Click on my name for link or cut’n’paste :

    M101 supernova update

    into the search box – posted by the BA here on the 25th August, 2011 at 6:03 PM for more.

    So many great astronomical images I guess its all too easy to accidentally miss one .. 😉

  19. For more about the M101 white dwarf type supernova – SN 2011fe & also temporarily named PTF 11kly – see the BA blog links :



    One of the deep sky science highlights for 2011 – at least in the northern hemisphere – surely? :-)

  20. db26

    The first photo reminds me of the movie cover for Across the Universe.

  21. Erik T

    One tiny little (typo?) correction on the hubble exoplanet detection one: the original direct detection wasnot made with the “10-m Gemini telescope” – the Gemini telescopes are actually 8 meters in diameter. The original papers on the first direct detections used both Keck (which *is* a 10-m telescope) and Gemini. So both of them get the credit, but Gemini North is not a 10-meter telescope.

  22. Erik (210) You are of course correct. I fixed it, thanks.

  23. Scott Richardson

    No denying it, that last shot of the Orion Nebula is just mind blowing and beautiful . Thanks so much for sharing!

  24. Karolien

    Hi Phil,

    I enjoyed this gallary very much. I’m surprised everybody is claiming ‘voorwerp’ means thing in Dutch. This is not the case. ‘Voorwerp’ means object in Dutch and thing translates into ‘ding’.
    kind regards, Karolien

  25. Is it possible the Voorwerp is BEHIND the attendant galaxy, and so the reason it’s still lit is because the reflection of the galaxy’s core going dark hasn’t arrived here yet because of the greater distance to travel? I hope I made sense there.

    Great job with the photos and explanations, Phil. You do a great job of making astronomy fun and interesting. Would it be worth considering waiting until the end of the year so that you don’t have to worry about new pics coming in and ruining your selection process?

  26. As the guy who set up the Voorwerp Hubble images – in fact, our best guess at this point is that the ionized gas lies just slightly behind the galaxy IC 2497 (30,000 light-years or so behind). That plus the data in hand would minimize the amount of energy needed to light it up, and allow more time delay for the action to have taken place than having it a bit in front. There may be ways involving numerical modeling and more detailed 21-cm radio data that night nail down where it is more precisely, but you use what you have.

  27. SamMcC

    Arp 273 looks like a beautiful, single space rose… lovely.

  28. SamMcC

    Okay, my impending 1st anniversary must be making me cheesy, but I know I see a near-perfect, glowing red heart in Abell 2744!

  29. B V Rao

    It is amazing that the cosmos of million million suns are standing without a pin support. Gravity alone can not explain the situation due the distances of several light years. Hindu seers said God is Anant meaning endless. They also said God shines like million suns. A name of Goddess is Viswa (cosmos) bhramana (movement) karini (cause) meaning cause of the movement of cosmos. How they new of the movement of cosmos thousand years ago? HE is also called Viswaadhara meaning support of the cosmos. Amazing philosophy !

  30. Matt B.

    “even these few years of extra data have helped astronomers understand better planets orbiting another star”

    Who says those planets are better? I say our star has the best planets. S-U-N! S-U-N! 😉


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