Monday, 26 April 2010

Happy Birthday Hubble

The Hubble Space Telescope is twenty so what a good excuse to look at some of the extraordinary pictures it has captured. These images affect me on an almost primeval level, like my favourite image of all time: Earthrise taken from Apollo 8, our planet rising above the surface of the Moon. The pictures show the extraordinary beauty of the cosmos and hopefully can inspire people regardless of their knowledge of science.

Hubble (Photo Nasa)

This is my favourite image taken by Hubble. It’s called the Pillars of Creation and shows columns of gas in the Eagle Nebula. The gas clouds are star factories light years long within which new stars are forming. I love the subtle colours; the yellows, browns, blues and greens and the halo of light especially in the left most pillar from the newly ignited stars within.

Pillars of Creation

This picture shows the titanic collision of two galaxies, apparently not that bad on stellar level as galaxies are mostly empty space.

Clash of the Titans

Below is probably the most mind boggling image that Hubble has taken. It’s not got that much WOW factor till you realise what it is. The Hubble Ultra Deep Field picture was the result of focusing the telescope on what looks from Earth like a dark empty section of the sky for just under 1 million seconds.

Ultra Deep Field

Ready to have you mind hurt? Those are not stars, each point of light is a Galaxy an estimated 10,000 of them in an area covering one thirteen millionth of the night sky. They are the oldest things yet seen in the universe existing less than a billion years after the big bang.

Now I’ve spent eight years training as a scientist and I’m used to dealing with abstract concepts and big numbers but here I’m really struggling. I just can’t comprehend what that means about the number of galaxies never mind stars that have existed. This picture shows THE UNIVERSE IS VAST ON A SCALE WE CANNOT POSSIBLY IMAGINE.

It’s also convinced me that life must exist elsewhere in the Universe (although I don’t believe ET has called to say hello) and to claim that we are it, and somehow special is and outstanding piece of hubris. We are special to nothing but ourselves but for that very reason we should stop trying to cock up our planet, nature has plenty more we only have one!

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