In the heart of the Large Magellanic Cloud (one of the Milky Way’s many satellite galaxies), there lies a vast complex of gas called 30 Doradus. And inside that sprawling volume of space is the Tarantula Nebula, a star-forming region so huge it dwarfs even our own Orion Nebula. Thousands of stars are churning away in there, going through the process of being born.
And as they do, the hottest and brightest of them carve huge cavities in the nebula, heating the tenuous gas therein to millions of degrees. The result? This:
[Click to embiggen.]
I love this image! It’s a combination of observations from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory (in blue, showing the incredibly hot gas) and from Spitzer Space Telescope (in red, showing cooler gas). Those bubbles of hot, X-ray emitting gas are constrained by the cooler gas around them, but it’s likely the hot gas is expanding, driving the overall expansion of the nebula itself. However, it’s also possible the sheer flood of high-energy radiation from the nascent stars is behind the gas’s expansion… or it’s a combination of both. Astronomers are still arguing over this, and observations like this one will help figure out who’s right.
… but you know me. I love pareidolia, and there’s no way you can look at this image and not see a really angry screaming face, shrieking at that blue blob hovering in its way. That’s so cool!
And c’mon, NASA: you release this image two weeks after Halloween? Oh well, I’ll add it to my scary astronomy gallery anyway, which is after the jump below.
Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/PSU/L.Townsley et al.; Infrared: NASA/JPL/PSU/L.Townsley et al.
I believe without reservation that this may be the greatest instance of pareidolia of all time: an ultrasound of a man experiencing epididymo-orchitis, or pain and swelling of a testicle:
Having suffered through a similar (if less traumatic) version of this, may I add that the expression on the man’s, um, "face" is exquisitely accurate.
Tip o’ the codpiece to my Hive Overmind co-blogger Ed Yong on Google+. Original image: Elsevier, Inc.
I know I’ve posted a lot about the Sun lately, and I know I just posted a funny picture by astrophotographer Alan Friedman. And maybe I should’ve waited for Caturday to post this. But c’mon. How could I not post this as soon as I saw it?
[Click to concatenate.]
It’s a SOL cat! I love how it looks like it’s rubbing its head on the Sun.
If you want the technical description of what you’re seeing, it’s a solar prominence, a long stream of ionized gas belched out by the Sun, flowing along its magnetic field lines.
Think of it as a 80,000 kilometer-long cosmic hairball the Sun hacked up. I will from now on.
And if you liked that picture by Alan, this one will make your hair stand on end!
[UPDATE: Alan calculated the size of this prominence as 80,000 km, and that looks about right to me. So just for comparison, I added the Earth roughly to scale in the picture here. That's a pretty big cat. It's head is bigger than our whole planet! Imagine the litter box that would take...]
I love the images of the Sun taken by astrophotographer Alan Friedman. I love pareidolia. And I love cryptozoology.
So of course I love love love this:
[Click to sasquatchenate.]
Pareidolia is the trait of seeing recognizable objects in random patterns (usually, but not always, faces). Cryptozoology is the study of fabled creatures like Nessie, or the chupracabra, or… I don’t know, for a totally random example, let’s say Bigfoot.
Still not sure what I mean? Maybe this’ll help:
OK, I’ll be a pedantic dork for just a sec, and say that this is actually just a prominence, an eruption of ionized gas off the surface of the Sun, guided by the twisting and churning solar magnetic field. Prominences can take all sorts of shapes — even angels and dragons — as they launch upward and fall back down to the Sun’s surface.
Alan Apeman — urp, sorry, I mean Friedman — takes simply amazing pictures of the Sun which I feature here all the time; see the Related posts section below for many more. And you should keep an eye on his pictures. Who knows what you’ll find in them?
Image credit: Alan Friedman
Hey, I haven’t posted a fun pareidolia (patterns that look like faces or figures) news article in a while, and this is a good one: a man in Finland found this interesting image on his wall:
[Here's the Google translation into English.]
Of course, the article claims it looks like the Virgin Mary.
Now look: I know that the standard depiction of Mary is usually with her head bent, covered in a cowl, with a robe of some sort. That kind of figure lends itself to pareidolia — it’s an easy shape to make, from oil stains to an MRI. But this is a pretty far cry from even that! Unless Mary’s head is a perfect sphere.
It looks very much like this is a simple reflection off a window or other shiny object. The way the light plays on the wall makes that clear. Of course, I cannot rule out a supernatural influence… so if it’s not Mary, who is it?
When you build and launch a high-resolution solar observatory that stares at the Sun 24 hours a day, you’re bound to catch some pretty cool stuff. As proof, check out this video of a stunning prominence erupting from the Sun’s surface on July 12, 2011, as seen by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory:
[Make sure you set the resolution to at least 720p.]
That’s really graceful, especially considering that tower reached the staggering height of about 150,000 km (90,000 miles) above the Sun in just a few minutes!
The gas on the Sun is ionized, which means it’s had one or more electrons ripped away from its atoms. Technically called a plasma, this makes it sensitive to the Sun’s strong magnetic forces. That becomes really obvious after it starts to collapse; it doesn’t follow a ballistic trajectory like you’d expect (the path a ball thrown up in the air would follow), but instead flows along the Sun’s magnetic field lines. This video is in the ultraviolet, where such a plasma glows brightly.
For a moment there, just at its peak, it coincidentally looks like a classic angel with wings spread. Of course, once the angel dissolves it forms more of an arc… so I guess this makes it an archangel. I’m glad no one heard a trumpet playing when this happened. That could’ve been awkward.
I glanced out my office window the other day and saw what is clearly a sign that the weather is ticked off about something:
Go cloud! Punch that sky!
I was thinking at first the cloud was the result of a big convective updraft; warm air screaming upwards and forming a puffy column. A couple of weeks ago I saw this happen in a ginormous cumulonimbus storm cloud. There were several rapidly rising columns of air moving up so quickly they were forming pilei, which are caps of water vapor that look like little shock waves at the top of the cloud.
However, when I was looking at this fist cloud just a few minutes later as it blew east toward my house, I saw this was just a perspective effect, and it was just a normal puffy cloud.
Too bad. I was getting into it. Give it to the man! Fight the stratus quo!
This is a pretty nifty illusion: as you look at a spot between two rapidly changing images of faces, your brain distorts the images, making them look really weird:
I could do without the title they chose for the video, but the paper on which it’s based is called "Flashed face distortion effect: Grotesque faces from relative spaces", which may not explain much, either. What it means, basically, is that as the faces flash, certain features get distorted by your brain, and the amount of distortion depends on how much that feature deviates from the rest in the set. In other words, someone with slightly larger eyes gets perceived by you as having huge eyes. Go ahead and pause the video and click through it; the faces are pretty much normal faces, so the distortion really is an illusion.
I think that’s pretty neat; I’m fascinated by how our brains perceive faces in particular, since people see them everywhere. I’d love to see some variations on this, like showing men’s faces, or a man on one side and a woman on the other. Would it work for animal faces too? Hmmm.
I’ll note that some people have a hard time seeing this illusion; my friend Richard Wiseman — who knows a thing or two on how the brain can be fooled! — doesn’t see it well. Do you?
Tip o’ the Nacker cube to Gizmodo and my old friend Bill Dalton.
It’s very common to see familiar things in random patterns. We see faces in clouds, Jesus in a tortilla, and smiley faces everywhere. It’s so ubiquitous there’s a term for it: pareidolia.
So when I saw on reddit that people were talking about seeing an epic dragon fight in the Orion Nebula, I smiled. But then I saw the image, and that smile turned to pure amazement. Why? Because here’s the image:
[Click to ensmaugenate.]
Do you see the dragon on the left, wings outstretched, breathing fire, blasting it at the man on the right? He has a face, and I see his shoulder, back, and outstretched arm as well, as if he’s battling the dragon.
Let me be clear: this picture is real! Well, the dragon and face aren’t real — they’re more pareidolia — but the images in the nebula are actually there. You might see them more easily in this contrast-enhanced version, too.
Let me explain…
Pareidolia is the psychological term for seeing patterns in random or near-random distributions of things. The Face on Mars, the Man in the Moon, Jesus in a taco shell, and so on… most of the time it manifests as faces, since our brains are geared to recognize them as easily as possible.
But sometimes you get other patterns too. I don’t know about you, but I agree with astronomer Yurii Pidopryhora: this is a dolphin:
It’s actually a cold molecular gas cloud about 25,000 light years away in our galaxy, seen in the radio part of the spectrum. I don’t have much to say, except
1) If that dolphin’s swimming, it must be in liquid helium and not water — note the temperature scale on the right; and
b) Too bad this is in the constellation of Scutum the shield; it should really be in Delphinus.
Image credit: Yurii Pidopryhora (JIVE)