Friday, December 21, 2012

Heavenly Sights: The Best Space Photos of the Year

Posted By on Fri, Dec 21, 2012 at 4:30 PM

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  • Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona

Slate's Phil Plait rounds up 21 stunning photos of the universe from 2012. The UA's space team has a connection to several of them, including the above image taken atop Mount Lemmon:

For sheer beauty, there is little in the sky to match a magnificent open-armed spiral galaxy. This is NGC 5033, which is located 50 million light years away from Earth. That’s relatively close by cosmic standards, allowing us to get a good peek at it even though we see it at a low angle. Accomplished astronomer Adam Block took this image using the 0.8-meter Schulman Telescope on Mount Lemmon in Arizona, and it’s a total exposure of 13 hours. You can see the combined glow of billions of older, redder stars in the center, and the blue light from younger stars being born in the arms—the pink blobs festooned on the arms are gigantic nebulae, clouds of gas and dust, where stars are being born and lit from within by those stars. The oddly distorted shape to the arms (together with some other unusual features) makes me think NGC 5033 recently had a close encounter with another galaxy, its gravity warping the shape of the spiral. That’s actually pretty common in the life of big galaxies like this. It’s a dangerous Universe out there.

Others include the image of the earliest galaxies yet glimpsed by man (which I wrote about this week in TW's print edition) and the astounding dust devil on Mars that we featured on The Range back in March.

All 21 photos are magnificent. Go check them out right now.

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