A little over 2000 light years away, toward the constellation of Cepheus, is a place where stars are being born. It’s a nebula, a gas cloud, and it’s called IC 1396. It’s monstrous, well over a hundred light years across – even at its tremendous distance, it’s wider than six full Moons in our sky.
Finnish astrophotographer J-P Metsävainio observed IC 1396, making a gorgeous image of it. But he wasn’t satisfied just doing that. He’d been playing with making 3D images for some time, and decided this might be a good opportunity to make a model of the structure of the nebula, and then create an animated GIF of it.
The results are… well, see for yourself:
Holy. Haleakala! [The filesize is 7Mb, so it may take a while to load.]
OK, let me be clear: this is not actually showing you the 3D structure of the nebula. It’s an approximation, a guess based on various assumptions on how nebulae are shaped. J-P broke the image up into layers, made a surface model of it, then remapped it all into different frames seen from different angles. He then put those together to make the animated GIF you see here.
The structure may not be completely real, but it’s still awesome… and it gives you a sense of the shape and composition of the gas cloud. The star in the center is the ionizing source; that is, it’s a hot, young, massive star blasting out ultraviolet light, and that’s what’s making the nebula glow. The dark ribbons are filaments of dust which absorb optical light (the kind of light we see). Many of them seem to point toward the central star. That’s because at their head is a dense clump of matter, and that’s getting eaten away by the light and fierce winds from that hot star. Material from the clump gets blown back and away from the star, like sandbars in a stream. It’s a very common structure in nebulae like this.
One thing that is pretty accurate is how the gas in the interior is blue, and red on the outside. Read More
Tomorrow morning, July 21, at 5:56 a.m. EDT (09:56 GMT), the Space Shuttle Orbiter Atlantis is scheduled to set wheels down on Earth one last time. When it launched, though, pictures were taken as the rocket rolled that allowed Nathaniel Burton-Bradford to create a 3D red/cyan anaglyph:
[Click to enlaunchenate.]
I posted another 3D image he made of Atlantis, too, and he has one of the ISS he just made as well. If you don’t have red/cyan glasses, you can search for ’em online. They’re pretty cheap, and I do sometimes link to pictures like this… like in Related Posts below. It’s totally worth a buck, just for that moment of "wow".
Credit: NASA, Nathanial Burton Bradford
I’ve written about Thierry Legault’s phenomenal imagery of space before; with relatively modest equipment, but excellent foresight, he gets astronomical shots of surpassing beauty.
He sent me a note earlier that he had something new and cool, and he wasn’t kidding: a video of the ISS in 3D!
Oh, I have a very cool anaglyph (red-green 3D images) for you! Stuart Atkinson from the Cumbrian Sky blog has created some fantastic anaglyphs of images from the Mars rover Opportunity as it investigates Concepcion crater. Here are some blocks that look like ejecta from the impact itself:
[Click to embiggen.]
These are beautiful! They almost look sedimentary, which at least makes some sense given that the region Opportunity is roving, Meridiani Planum, was once under water. Closeups of those rocks show they have the famous "blueberries", concretions of jarosite formed by mineral-laden water.
Stuart has lots more pictures he’s fiddled with, too, and it’s well worth your looking around his site. You should also read Emily Lakdawalla’s great description of Concepcion, talking about how we know it’s a fresh crater about 1000 years old. It’s a fascinating read.
Check. This. Out.
You might think that’s an alien spore, or a crystal of some kind. But it’s actually what appears to be a rendering of a three-dimensional fractal!
Fractals are very interesting. There are different ways to describe one, but one way to think of one is that it’s a shape that looks the same no matter what magnification you use. You can double it, triple it, make it 10,876,432 times bigger, and the object still displays (more or less) the same features. The term fractal was coined by Benoît Mandelbrot, and there is an entire subclass of fractals named after him. They are seen in nature (and art, like here) quite a bit. Coastlines are fractal, as are — seriously — some kinds of broccoli.
However, fractals are generally calculated in two dimensions. What’s new here is that the fractal pattern has now been calculated in three dimensions! That is, to say the least, a non-trivial procedure — I used to play with some of the 2D equations many years ago, on my old 512k Fat Mac, with code written in Pascal (yes, with the semicolons and everything) and it was fascinating if very complex.
But the 3D idea has been written up by Daniel White, who, along with others, figured out how to create and render such an incredible object. He even created a "fly-over" video to demonstrate the fractal pattern:
Wow. Even if the math of this makes no sense at all to you, the beauty of this should be apparent.
Which brings up a point: why are mathematical shapes beautiful? What makes them so pleasing to our eyes and brain; why did we evolve an appreciation for such things? I don’t know, and at some point I’ll have to research that a bit — understanding the principles behind this will help me appreciate it even more.
Tip of the fractionally dimension hat to Fark.