“At the last dim horizon, we search among ghostly errors of observations for landmarks that are scarcely more substantial. The search will continue. The urge is older than history. It is not satisfied and it will not be oppressed.” –Edwin Hubble
While new discoveries are made about the Universe, a new explorer finds its way on a foreign world, and the world bids farewell to a legend, my old favorite — the Hubble Space Telescope — keeps amazing us all.
Now more than 22 years into its continuing mission, this telescope has returned unprecedented information about the Universe, as well as a ridiculous number of breathtaking images. If what Hubble has returned can’t be considered art, I truly don’t know what can.
No fiction has ever touched me the way the Universe ever has, and the Hubble Space Telescope has literally made over one million observations over its lifetime. Recently, they ran a hidden treasures contest, where everything from stars to nebulae to galaxies were plucked out of obscurity and brought into the limelight for all to enjoy.
Above and below are the top 20 images from that one contest, and I’m not even sure that a single one of these images will wind up cracking Hubble’s all-time list of its top 100 images.
But the good folks who run HubbleSite.org can’t help but want to share the joy and beauty of the Universe with you, and I want to help them do it!
To commemorate the end of summer, every day from September 4th through September 16th, they’ll be giving away three official Hubble prints, 16″ x 20″, in a random drawing. And the three images they’ve chosen to highlight with this free giveaway — all very different from one another — are absolutely stunning.
There’s Mystic Mountain, a pillar of cool gas that’s rapidly boiling off in the Carina Nebula. The great pillar at the top is three light years long, and is in the process of forming new stars inside of it. The jets streaming from the outskirts are due to the new stars inside the “mountain,” while the hot radiation from the surrounding nebula causes the mountain itself to evaporate. In a matter of just a few thousand years — a blink of an eye to an astronomer — this entire mountain will be gone.
There’s the Helix Nebula, a star that was not unlike our own that’s recently reached the final stages of its life. After burning all the hydrogen fuel in its core into helium, it burned helium into carbon, and formed oxygen, neon, and some slightly heavier elements, but didn’t have enough mass to burn its fuel all the way to iron and beyond. So, much like our Sun will one day, it contracted down to a white dwarf, blowing off its outer layers and creating a planetary nebula. At just 700 light years away, it’s one of the closest planetary nebulae presently known.
And finally, there’s beautiful barred spiral galaxy NGC 1300, 61 million light years away and maybe 10-20% larger than our own Milky Way. This remarkable galaxy has two bright blue, sweeping arms, evident of intense, recent star formation, a tremendous galactic bar, and a grand-design spiral 3,300 light years in diameter at the very core of this galaxy. Furthermore, you can see numerous distant galaxies in the background, including a variety of spirals and ellipticals ranging in color from bright yellow to deep red.
A print of each of these gorgeous images will be given away daily for 13 consecutive days starting on September 4th. All you have to do is go to their facebook page and enter, which you can do starting on September 4th.
But for you, who were lucky enough to learn about this giveaway here, you’ve got an advantage over everyone else. Enter the code BANG to let them know you came from here, and you’ll be entered an extra time in the contest. (Thanks to Tracy Vogel of STScI for organizing this!) With 39 possible winners (3 apiece for each of 13 days), I want as many of you to walk away with a new, beautiful piece of the Universe for your own as possible!
Whether you win or not, and whether you even enter or not, I hope you enjoy and appreciate the wonderful Universe we live in, and all the joys and beauty it has to offer. It’s the only one we’ve got, and wow, did we ever luck out.