Tag: Milky Way

Galactic arch over the conjunction

By Phil Plait | March 19, 2012 1:04 pm

I was going to stop posting pictures of last week’s conjunction of Venus and Jupiter (see Related Posts below for more), but then photographer Brad Goldpaint went and sent me this ridiculously incredible shot:

You absolutely must click to embiggen that; I had to shrink it to fit the blog here. Brad took this just a few days ago at Smith Rock State Park located in Terrebonne, Oregon. It’s actually a mosaic of nine separate photographs, stitched together to show the grand scene. Venus and Jupiter are obvious enough (Venus is the brighter of the two, above Jupiter) but, as usual in Brad’s pictures, the real scene-stealer is the Milky Way. Usually, the Milky Way is a stream across the sky, but in this mosaic appears curved (that happens when you try to map large straight objects that take up a lot of sky into a rectangular picture frame).

You might see some familiar things if you look closely: on the left is Orion, tilted a bit, and all the way to the left is bright Sirius. Just above the planets are the Pleiades, and the head of Taurus to the left of that. Just to the right of the top of the Milky Way is bright yellow Capella, and farther down to the right the W of Cassiopeia.

What else do you see?


Related Posts:

Paradise, above and below (another stunning Venus/Jupiter pic)
Pic of pairs of planets and people
Jupiter and Venus still blaze in the west
The skies reflect our spinning world (a gorgeous time lapse video by Brad Goldpaint)
Well, at least light pollution makes for a pretty time lapse

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Pretty pictures

Galactic Storm

By Phil Plait | March 17, 2012 7:07 am

Need a little dose of awesome today? Then how about this incredible shot of the Milky Way towering over a thunderstorm in Canyonlands National Park?

[Click to cumulonimbulate.]

This was taken by photographer Bret Webster, and I don’t think I can add anything to this except Holy Haleakala!

Tip o’ the lens cap to the Earth Science Picture of the Day site. Image credit: Bret Webster, used with permission.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: Bret Webster, Milky Way

Temporal Distortion

By Phil Plait | February 14, 2012 9:55 am

Time lapse photographer Randy Halverson of Dakotalapse has done it again: an astonishing and beautiful video called "Temporal Distortion".

Lovely, isn’t it? And the music was specially commissioned to Bear McCreary, who did the music for "Battlestar Galactica" and "The Sarah Conner Chronicles".

I love the meteor at 55 or so seconds into the video that leaves what’s called a persistent train, or a trail that lasts for several minutes. In the time lapse you can see the vapor trail twist and turn as high-altitude winds push on it. I wrote about this before when Randy posted a still picture that eventually wound up in this video, and he graciously acknowledges me on his Vimeo page for the video.

I also noticed a flashing object at 3:38, going right past a bright star (which is Altair, by the way). See it? I think it might be a tumbling satellite, which changes brightness as it orbits end-over-end. It moves pretty slowly, so it must be in a high orbit. Just before that, at 3:25, he has a great view of the constellation Cygnus, the Swan, and you can just see the pink glow of the famous North American Nebula.

This is a great video, and there’s more too: Randy’s made an extended cut which is 23 minutes long! You can buy it on his website. After all, my one complaint about these time lapse videos is they’re never long enough.


Related posts:

A meteor’s lingering tale
Another jaw-dropping time lapse video: Tempest
Gorgeous Milky Way time lapse
The fiery descent of Atlantis… seen from space!
Meteor propter hoc

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Pretty pictures

In the dark abyss, a slightly warped mirror on the Milky Way

By Phil Plait | February 3, 2012 7:00 am

There is just something wonderful when Hubble points to nearby spiral galaxies. Sprawling and detailed, we get both great resolution on smaller features as well as a jaw-dropping overview of a grand spiral… like, say, NGC 1073:

Yeah, I know. [Click to galactinate — I had to shrink it to fit here, and it lost a lot of the coolness when I did — or grab the 3900 x 3000 pixel version.]

NGC 1073 is a decent-sized spiral galaxy about 60 million light years away. It’s actually part of a small, tight group of galaxies many of which are far more famous (like NGC 1068). But 1073 is important because of a simple property: it looks like us.

While it’s not a perfect match, NGC 1073 does bear an interesting resemblance to our Milky Way galaxy (UGC 12158 looks more like our galaxy, but is far bigger, for example). Both have large, rectangular bars going across their centers. Bars are a bit odd, since you’d expect the arms just to wind all the way down to the center. But the gravity of a galaxy isn’t like the gravity of a solar system, with a big heavy star sitting in the center. Galaxies have their mass spread out over a long distance, so what gas and dust clouds and stars feel in the way of gravity is different, and bars are a natural outcome of that. However, they’re still not perfectly understood. Bars may form when galaxies collide, and they might be an indication of a galaxy reaching middle age. Perhaps there are other factors as well.

Studying galaxies like NGC 1073 will help us understand how bars form, and why we have one too. Remember, we’re stuck inside our galaxy and can’t see it from the outside (that picture above is an illustration based on detailed observations). It really helps our understanding of the Milky Way to observe galaxies like ours.

An important thing too is that the two galaxies are different in some ways: NGC 1073 has more open arms, for example, compared to our more tightly wound arms. Those differences are telling us something as well. What is it that makes one galaxy hold its arms closer in, and another to fling them out? Why does this galaxy have two arms, and that one three? If you can look at two galaxies that are alike except in one way, it’s easier to isolate the cause. So studying NGC 1073 is a great way to study ourselves.

It always makes me think of Nietzsche, who wrote on the nature of man, "And when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you."

But on the nature of the Universe, it changes: "And when you gaze long into an abyss, your gaze falls back on yourself."


Related posts:

The Milky Way’s (almost) identical twin
Barred for life
Unwind with some spirals
Setting the bar
Sculpting a barred galaxy

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Pretty pictures

Incredible time lapse: Milky Way over Africa

By Phil Plait | January 18, 2012 4:59 pm

This video is only 20 seconds long, but wow. Simply, wow.

[Note: I’ve noticed sometimes the video won’t load and you get a black space. Try hitting refresh, or just click the link in the next sentence.]

This was created using a series of still images from the International Space Station on December 29, 2011, over the course of about 20 minutes. The ISS was orbiting over Africa at the time, as it passed from the center of the continent to Madagascar and then over the ocean. The flashes of light are from storms on our planet’s surface.

In the sky, though, the Milky Way steals the scene as it rises over the eastern horizon. Toward the end of the video, what I thought for a moment was a reflection of the Milky Way on the glass of the ISS turns out to actually be Comet Lovejoy, which was still visible at the time. You can also see the thin green arc of airglow over the Earth before the rising Sun ends the video.

If it weren’t copyrighted, I would’ve added Enya’s "Storms in Africa" track to this. It seems appropriate.

… and if there’s a metaphor here for overcoming adversity — whatever that may mean to you — well then, feel free to ruminate over it.

Credit: NASA


Related posts:
JAW DROPPING Space Station time lapse!
Time lapse: The spectacle of Comet Lovejoy
INSANELY cool picture of Comet Lovejoy
Time lapse video: ISS cometrise
JAW DROPPING Space Station time lapse!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Pretty pictures

INSANELY cool picture of Comet Lovejoy

By Phil Plait | December 24, 2011 7:00 am

The pictures of Comet Lovejoy keep coming, each cooler than the one before. It’s hard to imagine topping the ones from the Space Station, but then you don’t have to imagine it when you can just look at this crazy amazing shot:

Holy Haleakala! [Click to stimulatedemissionate.]

Well, actually, "Holy Paranal!" This picture, by Gabriel Brammer, was taken at the Very Large Telescope observatory on Cerro Paranal in the Atacama desert in Chile, and it’s just stunning. The comet is obvious enough — you can still see the two tails — and the crescent Moon, somewhat overexposed, on the left. On the right is the VLT itself, firing a laser into the sky. The laser makes atoms high in the atmosphere glow, creating an artificial star that can be used to compensate for turbulence in the air, creating sharper images.

I love how the Milky Way is splitting the sky. You can see the dark hole of the Coal Sack, a thick dust cloud that absorbs the star light from behind it, and the Southern Cross in the middle of the frame. The two bright stars just below that are Alpha and Beta Centauri, the former being the closest star system to our own. The southern hemisphere gets a better view of the galaxy than we northerners do, since the geometry of the Earth’s tilt puts the center of the Milky Way higher up for them. I’m jealous enough just because of that, but to have this incredible comet visible too? Curse you antipodeans!

[UPDATE: The ESO has added a nice time lapse video to the mix, using Brammer’s photos:

Sigh. So lovely.]

If you’re south of the Equator, the comet will be visible in the east before sunrise for a few more days at least. If you can, go take a look. Comets like this are extremely rare, and you may never get another chance like this again.

Image credit: Gabriel Brammer/European Southern Observatory

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

Crown of the Dolomites

By Phil Plait | December 1, 2011 7:00 am

[Reminder: I’m doing a live Q&A about asteroids impacts on the TED site at 20:00 UT today!]

Northeastern Italy is a mountainous, difficult terrain. Costazza peak, for example, is over 2000 meters (6600 feet) high, craggy and sharp. That makes it a daunting climb for a hiker… but if you’re content to stay near the bottom, it makes an awesomely dramatic frame for astrophotography.

Earlier this year Italian astrophotographer Edoardo Brotto ventured to Costazza and, late at night, took a series of pictures that he put together into an amazing mosaic of the sky. He calls it Crown of the Dolomites:

[Click to maggiorenate.]

Isn’t that breathtaking? He took 14 pictures in total for this mosaic; seven of the mountains themselves and seven of the sky. The Milky Way dominates the view; I love how it appears to arc over the mountains (hence Brotto’s title)! That’s actually not how it appears in the sky; it’s an artifact of taking pictures of the sky — which looks like a curved dome over our heads — and mapping it to a small rectangular picture. This sort of mapping confounds people (xkcd recently did a funny comic based on how maps are made), but it’s just what happens when you try to make a round peg fit a square hole.

The high orange clouds and darkly-lit peaks make this one of the more dramatic pictures of the night sky I’ve seen in a while. You can see more of his pictures on Wild Visions and 500 px.

Image credit: Edoardo Brotto, used by permission.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

Reflecting on the ISS

By Phil Plait | October 17, 2011 10:12 am

Randy Halverson is an astrophotographer who takes gorgeous pictures of the sky and puts them together into amazing time lapse videos (see Related Posts below for links to his work). On Google+ this morning he posted a picture he took last night, and it’s simply stunning: the International Space Station rising into the Milky Way, with both reflected on a lake’s still waters:

[Click to embiggen.]

What a fantastic shot! I’ve tried getting similar pictures, but never managed to get one as nice as this. It takes dark skies; Randy was about 300 km west of Sioux Falls, South Dakota when he took it, where there’s almost no light pollution. The Milky Way is obvious; you can see the bulge of the central region of the galaxy, and the disk tapering off to the top of the frame. Pictures like this are always a good reminder that we live in the mid-plane of a big spiral galaxy.

When Randy got this shot the ISS was rising over the southwestern horizon. 100 meters across, 380 km up, and moving at 8 km/sec, the station reflects a lot of sunlight and moves rapidly enough to create a bright streak in short time exposures… and bright enough to create a strong reflection in the water.

A funny thing: as I looked over the picture, I saw a faint streak not too far from the ISS. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

Bad Astronomy review: Terra Nova

By Phil Plait | October 17, 2011 6:30 am

So I finally watched the pilot episodes of the new Fox scifi drama "Terra Nova" (it airs Mondays at 8:00 p.m. ET). I found it watchable, with some potential, and like every other TV show in existence (except "Firefly") it had some things I liked and some I didn’t. I got email about it due to a couple of lines in the pilot, which I’ll get to in a sec. First, a quick overview.


Gotta get back in time

The idea behind the show (no real spoilers here, since this is all explained in the first minute of the program) is that by the year 2149, the Earth is dying. Pollution, global warming, and so on have made the planet nearly uninhabitable. People need rebreathers just to go outside, and many scenes show huge chimneys pumping smoke into the air just to hammer home that point. Population control is mandatory; having more than two kids is an invitation for the police to come.

The show centers on a family – cop father, brilliant doctor mother, rebellious teenage son, science whiz-kid teenage daughter, and their youngest, a girl. And yeah, if you count three kids, good for you! That drives part of the plot in Part 1 of the show, so I won’t spoil it.

The big plot device in the show is that a fracture in time is discovered — how and why are not disclosed, perhaps to be revealed in a later episode — that goes to 85 million years in the past. People are being sent back in time to populate the still-clean planet, save humanity, fight dinosaurs, and so on.

I’ll note that I like how the time travel was handled. When we join the story, time travel has already been around a while — this family is sent back as part of the tenth wave of colonists — so the writers didn’t have to spend a lot of time talking about how it was done. It just is. Also, the writers circumvented the inevitable fan rage with a short expository scene stating how this isn’t really our past; the time line has split, so it doesn’t matter if you step on a butterfly or eat an entire herd of dinosaurs. It won’t change the future. That made me smile. Score one (pre-emptively) for the writers.

Of course, the show tried to distance itself from "Jurassic Park", and did so by having the first look at the dinosaurs be a herd of brachiosaurs, and then having the main characters in souped-up jeeps getting chased by a carnivorous velociraptor/T-Rex-like animal.

Um, yeah. Oops.

I’m no paleontologist, and I like watching dinosaurs with big sharp teeth eat a person as much as the next guy, so that part was fine. But then they went a little bit out of their way to add some astronomy, and kinda blew it. So I have to jump in here a bit.

What follows is me nitpicking the science of a couple of lines of dialogue. I don’t do this to be petty — I gave up on that in my reviews a long time ago — but just to use these lines to point out the real science. Any snarking is incidental.

Read More

The skies reflect our spinning world

By Phil Plait | October 11, 2011 9:57 am

We live on a spinning ball, rotating madly as it moves through space. Once every day the surface of our planet makes a circuit around the imaginary line connecting its poles… well, imaginary it may be, but the effects are quite real, especially when you take long exposures of the night sky. That’s what photographer Brad Goldpaint did, and created this lovely time lapse video he calls Breaking Point:

[If you go to the Vimeo page for the video you can watch it in HD, which you really need to do, as well as make it full screen.]

Amazing, isn’t it? The visual of the stars wheeling around the sky over our head invokes such a wonderful feeling, as if the whole Universe is spinning around us. But it can also be a little odd-looking too. For example, take a look at this picture Brad composed using some of the images he crafted into the video, which he has singled out and called Delineated:

[Click to siderealate.]

Strange, isn’t it? For one thing, it isn’t one long exposure, but instead composed of 60 short exposures added together. If you squint you might see streaks of light, but in reality those arcs are composed of individual dots, the images of stars frozen as they moved across the sky.

It’s also a bit odd due to the fuzzy glow at the bottom. That’s actually the smeared-out light from the Milky Way galaxy as it rose into the frame. Not being a point-like source of light like stars, it has a dreamier, fuzzier quality. Again, from the video, here’s a single exposure from that series:

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures
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