A galaxy slightly smaller than our own Milky Way is getting its arm twisted, and a cosmic bully may be to blame.
As seen in a picture released in August by scientists with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, one of galaxy NGC 2146’s arms is bent at a 45-degree angle, such that the dense limb has looped in front of the galaxy’s core, as seen from Earth.
The most likely explanation is that the gravity of an unidentified nearby galaxy is disturbing NGC 2146’s arm, causing the galaxy to warp.
Archives for December 2011
You’ve probably figured out by now that I post as much science fiction and fictional spaceflight as I do “real” manned spaceflight. Give me space shuttle Discovery, the Saturn V, the Eagle, the White Star, the Heart of Gold, the Millennium Falcon — I love them all. I’m a big fan of the retro-future, the places we might have gone and the ships that might have taken us there. That they don’t yet exist gives me no less desire to dream that they might, in the future. Perhaps in my lifetime. Perhaps not. I admit, although I hadn’t necessarily expected tourist travel to the Moon by now, I thought at least somebody would be going there in person, from some country. Alas, earwax.
I read something the other day that keeps coming to mind, as one reason I believe we haven’t gotten further in the conquest of space (along with a lack of understanding as to what exploration means, and why we should be doing it.) It’s a thing called risk. Our culture views risk-taking as a positive thing, when it applies to financial or entrepreneurial ventures, but abhors it when it applies to life and limb.
Here is the quote, emphasis mine:
Not as famous as the Wright Brothers, after all, is Lt. Thomas Selfridge, the first man in history ever to die in a plane crash, but by no means the last. The conquest of the air filled graveyards with pilots. Great futures exact great prices. If we have not conquered space, it is perhaps because we are unwilling to fill our graveyards with the number of astronauts such an ambitious dream requires.
— The Big Idea: John C. Wright
The Mercury 7, being test pilots, knew full well the risks they were taking, and that sudden demise was a distinct possibility. They rode the rockets anyway, and if they died, they died in pursuit of something they believed in. Amazingly, none of the NASA astronauts died right off — in fact, nobody died for a while, which made the Apollo 1 fire all the more shocking. Challenger and Columbia, likewise, shocked and grieved the American public, and the world. However, looking back, it’s amazing we did what we did with the US space program with so little loss of life. How silly is it for us, as a culture, to expect to skip all the grisly bits and proceed straight to streamlined, trouble-free space travel? We emphasize and remember the major accidents (Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia), and granted they were horrible, tragic events, but certainly people don’t make the same fuss over fatal plane crashes. Planes still crash, people still die — sometimes pilots, sometimes innocent passengers. I dare say, there is not the same public outcry toward the FAA as there is toward NASA when we lose astronauts.
Which is a long way of saying, I agree with the above quote. We are unwilling to pay the price*, and that is in part why we have not conquered space travel in the present, to the degree we expected sixty years ago. Heck, this isn’t the future we expected even thirty years ago. What happened to the weekly space shuttle launches?
So, what’s holding us back from our “rightful” place in the heavens? Our culture’s abhorrence of death? Failed leadership? Lack of vision? Money? Technological progress?
What are your thoughts? Please leave a comment below!
* And am I willing to pay that price, you might ask? Fair question — I don’t know. It’d depend on what sort of mission we’re talking about, and I’d have to think about it in any case. (Lunar mission? Maybe. LEO? Not so much.) I doubt many people have an instant answer as to whether or not they’d die for something. Choose your thing carefully.
This aurora pic hails from September 2010; the colors are just gorgeous and worth belatedly posting. Enjoy your Tuesday!
Northern lights, or aurora borealis, stride across clouds above Ersfjord, Norway, shortly before 1 a.m. on September 15.
The display was all the more impressive because the moon had already set, scientists say. When it’s above the horizon, the moon can wash out all but the most intense of displays with its light.
Wishing all of my readers a very merry Christmas!
The bipolar star-forming region, called Sharpless 2-106, or S106 for short, looks like a soaring, celestial snow angel. The outstretched “wings” of the nebula record the contrasting imprint of heat and motion against the backdrop of a colder medium. Twin lobes of super-hot gas, glowing blue in this image, stretch outward from the central star. This hot gas creates the “wings” of our angel. A ring of dust and gas orbiting the star acts like a belt, cinching the expanding nebula into an “hourglass” shape.
I’m a big fan of Alan Bean, as some of you probably know. Here he is, descending the ladder, about to walk on the Moon. (And how cool is that??)
Alan L. Bean, Lunar Module pilot for the Apollo 12 mission, starts down the ladder of the Lunar Module (LM) “Intrepid” to join astronaut Charles Conrad, Jr., mission Commander, on the lunar surface.
Image credit: NASA and Charles Pete Conrad
I suppose one could construe that most spiral galaxies resemble holiday wreaths, but this is a particularly sparkly, full wreath. So there. Enjoy your Wednesday — and the shortest day of the year!
Resembling festive lights on a holiday wreath, this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image of the nearby spiral galaxy M74 is an iconic reminder of the impending season. Bright knots of glowing gas light up the spiral arms, indicating a rich environment of star formation.
Messier 74, also called NGC 628, is a stunning example of a grand-design spiral galaxy that is viewed by Earth observers nearly face-on. Its perfectly symmetrical spiral arms emanate from the central nucleus and are dotted with clusters of young blue stars and glowing pink regions of ionized hydrogen (hydrogen atoms that have lost their electrons). These regions of star formation show an excess of light at ultraviolet wavelengths.
Tracing along the spiral arms are winding dust lanes that also begin very near the galaxy’s nucleus and follow along the length of the spiral arms. M74 is located roughly 32 million light-years away in the direction of the constellation Pisces, the Fish. It is the dominant member of a small group of about half a dozen galaxies, the M74 galaxy group. In its entirety, it is estimated that M74 is home to about 100 billion stars, making it slightly smaller than our Milky Way.
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration