My God, it's full of stars!
October 10, 2003 5:41 AM   Subscribe

Breathtaking Hubble picture of the Sombrero Galaxy (also identified as M104). The Hubble Heritage team took the original images during May and June of this year using the Advanced Camera for Surveys and multiple color filters. They then stitched 6 images together to make the final composite image.
posted by Irontom (38 comments total)
It's full of stars. But if galaxies are clusters of stars what is the giant white mass in the middle that looks like a single star?
posted by stbalbach at 5:46 AM on October 10, 2003

It's a lot more stars in the middle. Here's APOD's explanation.
posted by onhazier at 5:53 AM on October 10, 2003

Thanks, Irontom!
posted by stonerose at 6:10 AM on October 10, 2003

Also, keep in mind that the object you're looking at is 50,000 light years across.
posted by Irontom at 6:10 AM on October 10, 2003

wow. Incredible image. Thanks!
posted by derbs at 6:44 AM on October 10, 2003

very very cool.

you blinded me with science. ha!
posted by poopy at 6:53 AM on October 10, 2003

According to this it is "Distance: 50000 (kly)" .. does that mean 50,000 thousand light years? In which case that would be 50 million light years which sounds more like the distance from us. Just checking. And curious since what we are looking at is really a fossil record 50 million years old.
posted by stbalbach at 6:56 AM on October 10, 2003

Stuff like this just makes my mind melt, with how small the galaxy looks from here, but how large it in fact is. The numbers are just staggering, and this is just one galaxy! Whew...
posted by JaxJaggywires at 6:57 AM on October 10, 2003

The Heritage site states that it's 28 million light years distant, and that the image in question shows a total width of 82,000 light years.
posted by Irontom at 7:22 AM on October 10, 2003

Stuff like this just makes my mind melt

Yup. It makes me want to crawl into bed and pull the covers up over my head a la Oliver Wendell Jones.
posted by MrBaliHai at 7:58 AM on October 10, 2003

There's a number of stars in the foreground that are missing -- presumably, they prettied up the disk a bit to make it more photogenic. (Compare to this ESO shot and you'll see what I mean.) I'm always disappointed when NASA has to bend the truth -- even just a little bit.
posted by ptermit at 8:01 AM on October 10, 2003

ptermit is right ... that is extremely lame (and disturbing)
posted by magullo at 8:13 AM on October 10, 2003

Thanks 'ptermit' the original image is very nice - new wallpaper.

However don't come down hard on NASA - it's not like other photographers don't filter, play with light, re-touch, etc. And - if the publics interest in space could be "re-sparked" by good PR - then perhaps NASA could get some more budget...
posted by jkaczor at 8:14 AM on October 10, 2003

When I was young, I cried when I saw a picture like this, because it was so beautiful, mysterious, and we'll never, ever get there.
posted by Pericles at 8:17 AM on October 10, 2003

But Pericles, at least you can take comfort in the fact that even though we'll never, ever get there, President Bush will never, ever be able to bomb anyone who might live there, either.
posted by UKnowForKids at 8:25 AM on October 10, 2003

Not with that attitude anyway, Pericles! ;-)
posted by callmejay at 8:28 AM on October 10, 2003

I, for one, welcome our new Mexican overlords.
posted by Robot Johnny at 8:32 AM on October 10, 2003

Nice picture. It caught me by surprise; I've seen so many astronomical pictures over the years that I didn't really expect it to be anything out of the ordinary. I like the way the glow in the center obscures the far edge of the ring. It's beautiful... and the fact that it's completely inaccessible makes it a little sad.
posted by Mars Saxman at 8:44 AM on October 10, 2003

hehe, the sombrero galaxy is gorgeous. anyone know where one could find images like this one, but larger that I can use for wallpaper? (1280*1024 is my posion)
posted by dabitch at 9:04 AM on October 10, 2003

That was very goading, UKnowForKids. And very funny. Thank you.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:10 AM on October 10, 2003

dabitch - Ask, and ye shall receive.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:13 AM on October 10, 2003

ptermit -

Hubble Heritage makes pretty posters. They don't do science - they make it popular and attempt to attract your tax dollars to do more science.
posted by badstone at 10:01 AM on October 10, 2003

Si! magnifico!

I understood Messier is 11. How did they come up with that name and number then?
posted by alicesshoe at 10:21 AM on October 10, 2003

Hubble Heritage makes pretty posters. They don't do science - they make it popular and attempt to attract your tax dollars to do more science.

From NASA:

The Hubble Space Telescope has established itself as a premier astronomical observatory that continues to make dramatic observations and discoveries at the forefront of astronomy. Following the successful First and Second Servicing Missions, the Telescope has achieved all of its original objectives. Among a long list of achievements, Hubble has:

• Improved our knowledge of the size and age of the universe

• Provided decisive evidence of the existence of supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies

• Clearly revealed the galactic environments in which quasars reside

• Detected objects with coherent structure (protogalaxies) close to the time of the origin of the universe

• Provided unprecedentedly clear images and spectra of the collision of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter

• Detected a large number of protoplanetary disks around stars

• Elucidated the various processes by which stars form

• Provided the first map of the surface of Pluto

• Routinely monitored the meteorology of planets beyond the orbit of Earth

• Made the first detection of an ultraviolet high-energy laser in Eta Carinae.
posted by gwint at 10:22 AM on October 10, 2003

badstone: Even if NASA didn't claim to be a scientific agency, they have released an image that is supposed to be a representation of fact -- and gets its power from being factual rather than an artist's impression. But this image isn't factual.

The missing stars are a small thing, but the lack of foreground stars actually would lead the casual viewer into making a wrong assumption about the universe: that the galaxy is closer to us than a starfield in the distance, rather than vice-versa.

Even so, I would probably overlook the problem given the Heritage team's PR function if they had some sort of disclaimer or mention of the liberties they took. But in their detailed caption that includes methods, there's no hint of any touchups:

The Hubble Heritage Team took these observations in May-June 2003 with the space telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys. Images were taken in three filters (red, green, and blue) to yield a natural-color image. The team took six pictures of the galaxy and then stitched them together to create the final composite image.

I think there's manipulations that are kosher -- cropping, color changes, contrast changes, filters, and such -- but photoshopping bits in or out of a picture without any sort of disclaimer crosses a line.
posted by ptermit at 10:23 AM on October 10, 2003

gwint: badstone was talking about the Hubble Heritage team, not about the Hubble Space Telescope itself.
posted by ptermit at 10:25 AM on October 10, 2003

Oh... and just for fun, here's a google cache of an article about a similar photoshop job at Sports Illustrated. Unfortunately, the images aren't preserved, but the art department photoshopped a soccer player's leg out of the frame, causing a mild uproar.
posted by ptermit at 10:32 AM on October 10, 2003

Thanks for the clarification ptermit. My apologies badstone.
posted by gwint at 10:51 AM on October 10, 2003

we'll never, ever get there.

Not unless we invent time travel, that image is 28 million years old. It's like looking at a dinosaur fossil. Of course we can presume not much has changed in 28 million years but this picture is of somthing that does not exist.
posted by stbalbach at 11:10 AM on October 10, 2003

This is one of those pictures that literally made me go, "ooooo." Nice one! This is Friday Fun even I can enjoy.
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:19 AM on October 10, 2003

Stuff like this just makes my mind melt, with how small the galaxy looks from here, but how large it in fact is.

And if you look closely, you can see about 10 or 12 other even more distant galaxies in the background.
posted by QuestionableSwami at 12:24 PM on October 10, 2003

more pretties. there are some reaaaaaaly neat pictures on that site. the keyhole nebula is gorgeous.
posted by bargle at 12:32 PM on October 10, 2003

It's like looking at a dinosaur fossil-

Isn't it actually like looking at a living dinosaur?
posted by marvin at 12:38 PM on October 10, 2003

bargle: Of course, the best part about the keyhole nebula image is that it reveals God's last message to his creation.
posted by ptermit at 1:08 PM on October 10, 2003

Ah, the Fickle Finger of Fate. Thanks, ptermit.
posted by trondant at 1:46 PM on October 10, 2003

Actually God's last message to his creation was.. well I'd hate to ruin the link for those of you who haven't read it before. So looking at these galaxies is kinda like reading the works of Douglas Adams. You may see it now, but he wrote it several years ago and the star has since moved on out of sight. So.. it's kind of the same thing... actually they're not anything alike at all and I can't remember where I was going with that.

You'd think if there were aliens out there somewhere, Hubble woulda seen one by now. Like a cigar shaped flying saucer speeding by the horsehead nebula or something. Unless of course NASA is just airbrushing them out, because the makes and models of the spaceships are so Edselesque, they practically break the lens.
posted by ZachsMind at 10:06 PM on October 10, 2003

Beautiful stuff.

Remember that you don't see these things with your naked eyes. The images are captured by CCD's (I'm guessing), and resulting data is transmitted, processed, massaged, munched, and finally built into a picture so I don't understand why anyone would complain about the picture not being "real".
posted by rdr at 2:18 AM on October 11, 2003

An STSCI employee sets the record straight about the supposed Photoshop job on the Hubble image. The 'missing' stars are there, you just have to look at the high-res version to see them. And rdr is absolutley right, the difference comes from different light filters being combined to get the different images.
posted by mutagen at 4:49 PM on October 14, 2003

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