Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Return of Hubble

Butterfly NebulaWith only a few days' light lag, Rocketpunk Manifesto salutes the return of the Hubble Space Telescope, back in operation after recalibration of instruments following its May maintenance and upgrading service call from the Shuttle Atlantis.

See the link's comments thread, in which a member of the Hubble science team promised a spectacular September reprise debut. The promise has been duly kept, this showpiece image (via Sky & Telescope) being the Butterfly Nebula, the swan song of a dying red giant star some 3800 light years away in Cygnus. In spite of appearance the event was not an explosion; the nebula was formed by an eruption that lasted some 2200 years.

Astronomers have an advantage over most scientists, because their work produces such spectacular eye candy, and they certainly make the most of it.


Anonymous said...

Hubble IS the most spectacular observitory we have...I hope that its kept working for years to come!


Jean-Remy said...

Those are spectacular images!

Also, to be fair, astronomy is one of the most readily accessible sciences to begin with. One only needs to look up at night, and for most of human history that was exactly what we did, and we got spectacular results from it: Maccu Piccu, with its observatory perfectly aligned to the solstice, the Egyptian pyramids, aligned to mirror constellations, and even Stonehenge, proving that the draw of the night side was enough to draw early man into feats of engineering that still leave us to wonder.

Even today amateur astronomy is an easier field to start in that, say, high energy particle physics. It's easier to buy or even build your own telescope than, say, build a supercollider in your backyard, after all.

The real wonder of it is that looking through a small telescope that's a direct descendant of Galileo's own, is just as exciting as looking at those pictures. Certainly the dim, blurry dots, barely magnified in the lens are nowhere near as spectacular, but there is a far greater emotional impact to look through that lens and see the sky as it is now, with no tricks, no CGI, no Photoshop.

Yes, astronomers are lucky, but not just because they make pretty pictures.

Anonymous said...

Amateur astronomers have contributed a lot to the field, and still do even in the face of competition from multi-million dollar space telescopes. It's the kind of field that rewards a lot of different people looking at the same place night after night after night...

I couldn't do that work. I'm a city boy. The only time I see the stars is when photos like this show up in the news.


Rick said...

Under dark skies, a remarkable amount of astronomy can be done with the naked eye. In fact the naked eye on a dark night is the best 'instrument' for observing the large scale structure of the Milky Way.

And through the telescope the eye sees subtle things that don't really register in images, however gorgeous. I never realized that the Andromeda galaxy has such a bright small nucleus till I saw it through the eyepiece. In images the whole central region usually gets overexposed and burned out.

Astronomy is also an emotionally evocative science. I've seen a few romantic comedies in which the male lead was an amateur astronomer - no other science works so well that way: the night sky as a symbolic gift of jewelry. ;-)