Art imitates Life imitates Cosmos
February 11, 2007 4:49 AM   Subscribe

Super-sized cosmic double helix For all the many different (sometimes ignominious) ways in which we imitate nature, sometimes it is nice to see the dynamic change a bit - this time, in the guise of something at the heart of our essence found at the heart of our local island miniverse.
posted by anatinus (14 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Dumb analogy, awesome discovery.
posted by anser at 5:41 AM on February 11, 2007

What's with the hexagonal blob with the ring of smaller blobs on the lower left side of the first image?
posted by public at 5:49 AM on February 11, 2007

Actually there appear to be loads of blobs in that sort of configuration. Lens flare?
posted by public at 5:51 AM on February 11, 2007

That's Tara Reid. She's a star.
posted by hal9k at 7:00 AM on February 11, 2007

The first link referenced the "giant black hole" in the center of the galaxy. (whose rotating debris rings cause this helix)

Is there a name for this supermassive galacticly centered black hole?
posted by Balisong at 7:22 AM on February 11, 2007

here's a higher resolution image. my best guess is the blobby shapes are normal airy rings, with some sort of instrumentation noise superimposed on top.

it's pretty clear in the high res image that there are definite bands of light and dark, in the bottom half of the image. probably some electronics fluctuating (or who knows what, honestly), as the scope rastered back and forth. put those on top of a diffraction ring, and voila - blobby spots.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 7:26 AM on February 11, 2007

balisong - sagittarius a*
posted by sergeant sandwich at 7:33 AM on February 11, 2007

From the main UCLA article:
"We see two intertwining strands wrapped around each other as in a DNA molecule," said Mark Morris, a UCLA professor of physics and astronomy, and lead author. "Nobody has ever seen anything like that before in the cosmic realm. Most nebulae are either spiral galaxies full of stars or formless amorphous conglomerations of dust and gas — space weather. What we see indicates a high degree of order."
He's half right, anyway. From, January 12, 2006 — Space 'Slinky' Confirms Theory with a Twist.

What might cause helical magnetic fields in space? Here's some other theories.
posted by cenoxo at 9:08 AM on February 11, 2007

Looks like the blobs are part of the point spread function (PSF) of the telescope - googling 'Spitzer psf' turned up this - look at the pictures at the bottom.

In other words, like the Airy rings sergeant sandwich said, but not really electronics fluctuating or anything - it's due to the optics of the telescope, which are more complicated than the classic Airy case because it's not just a hole in one thing, so a whole bunch of stuff gets mixed up together into a complicated pattern.
posted by edd at 10:04 AM on February 11, 2007

I agree with the sergeant's comment about Airy rings--that's what's causing the concentric-ring effect. I don't think the blobs are raster effects, though--the contrast between the bright and dark regions is much too large, and the dots at the top and bottom are located on the same line, with a gap between. Most probably, they are diffraction effects from the spiders. (Spiders are the thin pieces of the telescope that hold the secondary mirror out in front of the primary.) This page on Spitzer's telescope shows three spider vanes holding the secondary, which will produce a hexagonal pattern in the image. This is the same reason you see the square star-flare in images like this; lots of telescopes use four spiders in a cross.

Or, on preview, what edd said.
posted by Upton O'Good at 10:06 AM on February 11, 2007

Can you imagine being close enough to see this with some detail, say 160 light years so it would be 22 degrees across the sky?
posted by Mitheral at 7:22 PM on February 11, 2007

"Dumb analogy..."

Mahh, whattya want... it was five in the morning.
posted by anatinus at 9:11 PM on February 11, 2007

If you could see in infrared, it would be spectacular. The Double Helix Nebula was imaged in infrared wavelengths by the Spitzer Space Telescope, with false colors added afterwards. There's many more processed subjects in the SST image gallery.

More about the DHN in the July-August 2006 Natural History article, Deceptive Nebulous Apparition? The Double Helix at the Center of the Galaxy.
posted by cenoxo at 9:25 PM on February 11, 2007

Many other stars are present in this region, but are too dim to appear even in this sensitive infrared image.

everytime i see something like this i am reminded that there are a lot of other options out there for god to choose from.
posted by altman at 2:47 AM on February 12, 2007

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