Monday, July 31, 2006

amazing astronomical images

images from Cassini.  left: moon Dionne ringside; center: moon Enceladus' surface; right: SaturnOver the weekend I visited the NASA Exploration Center at Moffett Field. A small museum dedicated to space flight, it contains the Mercury Redstone 1A space capsule, a full-scale model of a section of the International Space Station, and a 40-foot wide immersive theater for multimedia shows on interplanetary exploration.

In the theater, I watched the presentation on the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn, and was fascinated both by the probe journey and the images it has returned (samples above). Also mentioned was the Sombrero Galaxy (pictured below), a formation so awesome I thought it was going to be my cool thing of the day.

The Sombrero Galaxy, or M104 as it is officially cataloged, is 30 million light years away, and it is receding at the astonishing rate of 1,000 km/s. Its dust ring is its most striking feature, but more impressive are its 38,000 light year radius and its black hole center with a mass 1 billion times the weight of our Sun.

As I was researching my post, though, I discovered something cooler still: the amazing galleries of astronomical images available on-line. I’ll suggest two to start with:

the Hubble Heritage Images and NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day (check out this, this and this)

however, there are many more to explore.