Category Archives: Deep Space Objects

The Desert Dishes of Apollo Valley

Panorama of the Deep Space Network's Apollo Valley in Goldstone, CA (© Jason Major) CLICK FOR FULL SIZE

Panorama of the Deep Space Network’s Apollo Valley in Goldstone, CA (© Jason Major) CLICK FOR FULL SIZE

Deep in the Mojave desert of central California, scattered among the scrub-covered hills and rugged, rock-strewn fields, are enormous white radar dishes pointed at the sky — NASA’s “ears” for listening to the faint calls coming from its many spacecraft out exploring our solar system. I recently had the opportunity to pay a visit to the Deep Space Network complex in Goldstone (read my full account here) and while there took some photos of one of DSN’s most impressive sites: “Apollo Valley,” the home of DSS-24, -25, and -26, three giant 34-meter high-gain “Beam Waveguide” antennas (the first two of which are seen above) as well as the original Apollo dish that once received messages from Apollo 11 as it made its historic Moon landing.

With the spring desert flowers in bloom and the antennas gleaming white against the blue sky, it was an impressive sight! Click the image above for a full-sized version.

Learn more about Apollo Valley here.

Take a Scenic Flight Through the Universe

I don’t typically post things here about deep-space stuff (just to stay on theme) but this was too cool not to share. It’s a visualization of the Universe made from data acquired by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and shows the locations (and actual images, in most cases) of almost 400,000 galaxies as if we were in a starship soaring among them at many, many times the speed of light. (Without all the bothersome distortion effects of light-speed travel.)

Really, you’re going to want to full-screen this one. (And HD too if you can spare the bandwidth.)
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What Happens Around a Hungry Black Hole?

While what exactly goes on within the event horizon of a black hole is still well within the realm of theoretical physics (and it’s said that at the very heart of a black hole physics as we know it gets a serious kick in the pants) researchers are learning more and more about what happens in the immediate vicinity around a black hole, within the flattened disk of superheated material falling inexorably in toward the center. Using supercomputers, scientists can model the behavior of black holes’ accretion disks and see how gas behaves as it gets accelerated and drawn inward, heated to millions and even billions of degrees.

Here, an animation shows the activity around an active, non-rotating stellar-mass black hole. Taking 27 days to complete on a supercomputer at UT Austin, it shows “a turbulent froth orbiting the black hole” at relativistic speeds — that is, very close to the speed of light. Using this data, scientists are able to see how a black hole heats gas and emits different kids of x-rays… it’s the next best thing to being there! (Actually, it’s probably a much better thing than being there.)

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The Horsehead Nebula Like You’ve Never Seen It Before

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New Hubble infrared image of the Horsehead nebula region. Click for a larger version.

Holy Horsehead, Batman! You’ve probably seen photos of the famous Horsehead nebula in Orion many times before, but NOTHING like this!

Astronomers have used NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to photograph the iconic Horsehead Nebula in a new, infrared light to mark the 23rd anniversary of the famous observatory’s launch aboard the space shuttle Discovery on April 24, 1990.

Looking like an apparition rising from whitecaps of interstellar foam, the iconic Horsehead Nebula has graced astronomy books ever since its discovery more than a century ago. The nebula is a favorite target for amateur and professional astronomers. It is shadowy in optical light. It appears transparent and ethereal when seen at infrared wavelengths. The rich tapestry of the Horsehead Nebula pops out against the backdrop of Milky Way stars and distant galaxies that easily are visible in infrared light.

The nebula is part of the Orion Molecular Cloud, located about 1,500 light-years away in the constellation Orion. It is one of the nearest and most easily-photographed regions in which massive stars are being formed.

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Our Galaxy Isn’t As Big As You Think It Is

Galaxy size comparison chart (Rhys Taylor)

Galaxy size comparison chart (Rhys Taylor)

Think the Milky Way is a big place? Think again — check out this graphic by Arecibo astrophysicist Rhys Taylor, which neatly illustrates the relative sizes of 25 randomly-selected galaxies using images made from NASA and ESA observation missions. It even includes a rendering of our own remarkably mundane galaxy at the center for comparison.

(Warning: this chart may adversely affect any feelings of galactic superiority you may have once held dear.)

Read the rest of this article here.

Space Book Alert: Your Ticket to the Universe

Your Ticket to the Universe: A Guide to Exploring the Cosmos (Available for purchase from Smithsonian Books on April 2)

Your Ticket to the Universe: A Guide to Exploring the Cosmos (Available for purchase from Smithsonian Books on April 2)

Every once in a while an astronomy book comes out that combines stunning high-definition images from the world’s most advanced telescopes, comprehensive descriptions of cosmic objects that are both approachable and easy to understand (but not overly simplistic) and a gorgeous layout that makes every page spread visually exciting and enjoyable.

This is one of those books.

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A Spooky Space Ghost for Halloween!

A portion of vdB 141, aka the “Ghost Nebula”

Looking like something out of a Tim Burton movie, the eerie shapes seen above are part of a cloud of gas and dust located 1,200 light-years away in the constellation Cepheus. First identified in 1966, the human-like figures with “arms” raised give the nebula its spooky nickname: the “Ghost Nebula”.

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