I love seeing pictures of other galaxies and nebula and stuff (see also my column You used to be able to see the stars at night). Some of the images from the Hubble Telescope literally make me gasp in awe.
Well, with regard to my recent blog Will robots soon be building houses using 3D Printing Technology? I’ve just been having a happy wander around the TXCHNOLOGIST website.
One of the stories on TXCHNOLOGIST.com guided me to the European Southern Observatory website (www.eso.org). In particular, I found myself reading about a picture of the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293) that was taken by ESO's Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA).
The Helix Nebula is a planetary nebula located 700 light-years away. The colored picture shown below was created from images taken through Y, J and K infrared filters (whatever that means).
As the ESO site says: “While bringing to light a rich background of stars and galaxies, the telescope's infrared vision also reveals strands of cold nebular gas that are mostly obscured in visible images of the Helix.” (Well, duh! Even my mother knew that [grin])
Be warned! If you go to ESO’s top-level images page (www.eso.org/public/images), you are going to spend a lot of time there, because these pictures are so gorgeous that you simply cannot help drooling over them and then saying to yourself “I’m going to look at just one more…”
Helix Nebula. Credit ESO/VISTA/J. Emerson.
Acknowledgment: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit
Quite apart from anything else, isn’t it amazing how much this image resembles a human eye? Can you envisage what the night sky would be like if the Helix Nebula (in this orientation / presentation) were close enough to the earth that it appeared to be the same size as the moon? Or suppose that it appeared to be two or three times the size of the moon?
I can only imagine what primitive peoples would have thought of this along the lines of “We’d better be really, really good because God is watching us…”
or more likely “Let us go and do some righteous smiting because we know for sure that God is on our side!”
Of course, this image immediately made me think of that science fiction classic The Mote in God’s Eye
by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, which I’ve always regarded as being one of the best “First Contact” scenarios.
Dang, now I’ll have to pull that book off the shelf in my office and take it home and add it to the pile of “stuff” that is crying out for my attention…
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