We know space is big, but trying to understand how big is tricky. Say you stare up at the sky and identify stars and constellations in a virtual planetarium, you can't quite fathom how far away all those stars are (previously, twice). Even if you could change your point of view and zoom around in space to really see 100,000 nearby stars (autoplaying ambient music, and there are actually 119,617 stars mapped in 3D space), it's still difficult to get a sense of scale. There's this static image of various items mapped on a log scale from XKCD (previously), and an interactive horizontal journey down from the sun to the heliosphere with OMG Space (previously). You can get a bit more dynamic with this interactive Scale of the Universe webpage (also available in with some variants, if you want the sequel [ previously, twice], the swirly, gravity-optional version that takes some time to load, and the wrong version [previously]), but that's just for the scale of objects, not of space itself. If you want to get spaced out, imagine if If the Moon Were Only 1 Pixel, and travel from there (previously). This past March, BBC Future put out a really big infographic, which also takes a moment to load, but then you can see all sorts of things, from the surface of Earth out to the edge of our solar system.
In 1965 (or 1966, or...1964, depending on your source), three northeast garage rock bands came together to create the definitive early garage rock Christmas Album that time has since forgotten. Merry Christmas from The Sonics, The (Fabulous) Wailers, and The Galaxies features everything from Bob Dylan sound-alikes, fantastic originals, sincere classics... and weird goof-arounds. [more inside]
A flight through the universe using data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. [single-link APOD]
Visualization of the dark matter in 1/1000 of the gigantic Bolshoi cosmological simulation, zooming in on a region centered on the dark matter halo of a very large cluster of galaxies. ... The Bolshoi simulation is the most accurate cosmological simulation of the evolution of the large-scale structure of the universe yet made (“bolshoi” is the Russian word for “great” or “grand”). (The Formation of the Milky Way and its Neighbors is cool too.)
"The 2MASS Redshift Survey (2MRS) has catalogued more than 43,000 galaxies within 380 million light-years from Earth. In this projection, the plane of the Milky Way runs horizontally across the center of the image. 2MRS is notable for extending closer to the Galactic plane than previous surveys - a region that's generally obscured by dust." Hires image.
Frosted Leaf Orion More from Masahiro Miyasaka: Firefly which looks at Milky Way ll Skunk cabbage in a galaxy ll ☆Christmas trees land☆
On July 17th, NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) satellite completed its first survey of the entire sky viewable from Earth. After just seven months in orbit, WISE -- a precursor to the planned James Webb Space Telescope -- has returned more than a million images that provide a close look at celestial objects ranging from distant galaxies to asteroids. The first release of WISE data, covering about 80 percent of the sky, will be delivered to the astronomical community in May of next year, but in the meantime we can see some of the images and animations that NASA has released to date: Galleries (containing just a small selection of images): 1, 2, 3, 4. Videos and Animations: 1, 2 [more inside]
Galaxy Zoo 2: Help astronomers sort through 250,000 galaxies! The Sloan Digital Sky Survey found hundreds of thousands of galaxies which needed to be accurately classified; the original Galaxy Zoo project was a collaborative effort by tens of thousands of volunteers around the world to sort these galaxies into spiral and elliptical categories. Now, it's entered its second phase: describing the details of these galaxies. Read the tutorial, and then you can jump in and start classifying. [more inside]
A team of astronomers needs your help. It's not terribly easy to get computers to distinguish between galaxy shapes, but fortunately humans are not only very good at it, but seem to actually enjoy gazing out in to space. So, go to galaxyzoo.org, look at a few pretty pictures from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey , and help classify millions of galaxies and aid research in to how they form and evolve while you're at it.