Saturday, July 14, 2007

Vast vision must improve our sight

My favourite photo is Nasa's "Hubble Deep Field".

In 1996, the space-telescope (how cool a concept is that BTW.) was aimed at an "empty" bit of the sky and left on a long exposure. Even seasoned astronomers were knocked out by the sheer richness of what was revealed - called by some the "Galaxy Zoo". Some galaxies look like toothpicks; others like links on a bracelet. A few appear to be interacting. These oddball galaxies chronicle a period "only" a few hundred million years after its creation when the universe more chaotic. Order and structure were just beginning to emerge.

There was an updated picture in 2004 , the so called "Hubble Ultra-Deep Field".

This was in many ways a more ambitious picture and technically more advanced, but to me it didn't have the shock value of the original. I can almost imagine the scientists' boggled-eyed amazement when they saw the first pictures coming through.

Like Douglas Adams said, "Space is big" - sometimes you forget just how big. Do please click on these images and then run through your current set of problems. I guarantee you will discard half of them as being too small to worry about.

Not moved by the sight of 10,000 galaxies ? Check your pulse - I think you are dead and just haven't stopped moving yet.

I have been helping out on the online Galaxy Zoo project. The idea is that the human eye is better at identifying whether a smudgy galaxy is elliptical or spiral and if a spiral, which way the spiral arms are rotating. Using a network of space geeks (guilty ..) who are willing to work for free, they are cataloguing galaxies, looking for patterns. It takes about 10 minutes to work through their on-line tutorial and then you're a fully-operational galaxy-sorter. Loved the idea that I could probe the limits of the known-universe from the comfort of my Travelodge room, wearing pants (no picture available).

Incidentally if you search Google News for "Galaxy" on Google news at the moment, most of what you get is an ageing trick-shot specialist called Beckham and his bimbo wife making millions in California. Give me the Universe any day.

1 comment:

Kenny said...

I don't know whether I have ever told you this, but my final-year thesis was an astronomical one, so this kind of stuff absolutely fascinates me. We'll have to have a chin-wag about Jupiter and asteroids at some point. I have some mad theories that the profs didn't agree with, but then again, I didn't think they were that bright anyway so why should I take their word over my logic? ;)

Interesting stuff though -- we need to get together for a beer and a crossword soon.