5 of the most fascinating photos of the universe taken by telescopes

Astronomers rarely use their telescopes to simply take pictures. Images in astrophysics are usually produced by a process of scientific inference and imagination, sometimes reflected in artists’ impressions of what the data suggest.

Choosing the 5 most impressive recent photos is not an easy task, but it is necessary as this way we can take a look at this magical world in which we were born and which does not end on our planet. This avoids the very popular images that have already been widely viewed and chooses those that have something extraordinary to tell about the universe.

5 of the most fascinating photos of the universe taken by telescopes

1. The poles of Jupiter

Photo: NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / MSSS

The first image was created by NASA’s Juno mission, which is currently orbiting Jupiter. The image was taken in October 2017, when the spacecraft was at a distance of 18,906 kilometers from the peaks of Jupiter. It captures a system of clouds in the northern hemisphere of the planet and is our first view of the poles of Jupiter (the North Pole).

The images on which this image is based reveal complex flow patterns, similar to cyclones in the Earth’s atmosphere, and striking phenomena caused by a variety of clouds at different altitudes, which sometimes cast shadows on the layers of clouds below.

This photo is special for its beauty as well as for the surprise it causes: the parts of the planet near its north pole look very different from the parts we have seen before closer to the equator. Looking down at the poles of Jupiter, Juno showed us a different view of a familiar planet.

2. The Eagle Nebula

Photo: G. Li Causi, IAPS / INAF, Italy, CC BY

Astronomers can obtain unique information by building telescopes that are sensitive to “color” light beyond what our eyes can see. The well-known rainbow of colors is just a small fraction of what physicists call the electromagnetic spectrum.

Beyond red is infrared, which carries less energy than optical light. An infrared camera can see objects that are too cold to be perceived by the human eye. In space, it can also see through the dust, which otherwise “blinds” us

The next photo is the view of Herschel, the European Space Agency’s largest Herschel space observatory, on the formation of stars in the Eagle Nebula, also known as M16. A nebula is a gas cloud in space. The Eagle Nebula is 6,500 light-years from Earth, close enough to astronomical data. This nebula is a place of intense star formation.

A close-up view of a feature near the center of this image has been named “Columns of Creation”. The cavity is swept by winds coming from energetically new stars that have recently formed deeper in the cloud.

3. The Galactic Center

Photo: Hubble: NASA, ESA, and QD Wang

This image looks deeper into space, in the center of our Galaxy. It also uses infrared light, this time combining data from two Nasa telescopes, the Hubble and the Spitzer. The bright white area at the bottom right of the image is the center of our Galaxy. It contains a huge black hole called Sagittarius A *, a cluster of stars and the remnants of a large star that erupted as a supernova about 10,000 years ago.

Other star clusters are visible. There is the Quintuplet swarm in the lower left part of the image inside a bubble where the star winds have cleared the local gas and dust.

4. Abell 370

Photo: NASA, ESA, and J. Lotz and HFF Team (STScI)

On much larger scales than individual galaxies, the universe is structured as a web of dark matter (long strands of yarn). Some of the most striking visible objects are clusters of galaxies that form at the intersection of the threads.

If we look at nearby galaxy clusters (relatively speaking, of course), we can see dramatic evidence that Einstein was right when he argued that mass curves space. One of the most beautiful examples that reveals this distortion of space can be seen in the Hubble image of the Abell 370, released in 2017.

Abell 370 is a cluster of hundreds of galaxies about 5 billion light-years away. In the picture you can see elongated light arcs. These are the magnified and distorted images of much more distant galaxies. The mass of the swarm distorts space-time and bends light from the most distant objects, magnifying them and in some cases creating multiple images of the same distant galaxy. This phenomenon is called gravitational lensing because the distorted spacetime works like an optical lens.

The most prominent of these magnified images is the densest light arc above and to the left of the center of the image. This arc, called “the Dragon”, consists of two images of the same distant galaxy on its head and tail. Overlapping images of many other distant galaxies form the arc of the dragon’s body.

5. The “Extremely Deep Field” of the Hubble Telescope

Photo: NASA, ESA, and S. Beckwith (STScI) and HUDF Team, CC BY

In an inspired idea, astronomers decided to turn Hubble into an empty part of the sky for several days to discover what extremely distant objects could be observed at the edge of the observable universe. The extremely deep Hubble field contains nearly 10,000 objects, almost all of which are very distant galaxies. Light from some of these galaxies has been traveling for more than 13 billion years, from the time the universe was just half a billion years old.

Some of these items are among the oldest and most distant known. Here we see light from ancient stars which have long since faded. The oldest galaxies formed during the reunion era, when the thin gas of the universe was first bathed in starlight that was able to separate electrons from hydrogen. This was the last major change in the properties of the universe as a whole.



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