Even if you were to theoretically travel to the darkest desert on Earth, wait until after sunset, and peer into the night sky, you wouldn’t be able to see all the stars there are to see.
There would be countless others scattered throughout the universe, hidden not only by distance but also because our eyes are not built to perceive the signals they emit: invisible signals such as infrared light, radio waves and X-ray emissions. In fact , humans can only see a small part of it electromagnetic spectrum. It is a fragment known as the “visible light region”.
But like Stephen Hawking once saidwe overcome these limitations brilliantly with “our minds and our machines” – and once again, our species has managed to live up to that phrase.
On Thursday (September 14), scientists unveiled five new images of deep space captured in a variety of wavelengths invisible to humans. It’s an extraordinary collection of images that reveal some absolutely compelling corners of the cosmos. Each portrait is constructed with data collected by powerful telescopes, including NASA Chandra X-ray Observatorythe now retired Spitzer Space Telescopethe iconic James Webb Space Telescope and the Very large telescope (to name just a few).
Crucially, these instruments are capable of capturing streams of non-visible light radiation coming from distant regions of space so that scientists can take that information, overlay it as needed, and turn it into images we can admire.
Now that we know what we’re looking at, let’s examine everything.
The first image highlighted by NASA in a statement about the five pieces is titled “Galactic Center.” Located approximately 26,000 light-years from Earth, this is literally the center of the Earth Milky Way galaxy we live in. Contains a supermassive black hole, superheated gas clouds, neutron stars (which are stellar beings so dense that a spoonful of one would equate to something like the weight of Mount Everest) and other wacky stuff.
The reason it looks a bit shapeless instead of swirling like you might imagine a galactic center is is because we’re looking at it from inside the galaxy. This internal perspective is actually one of the reasons why scientists Collaboration with the Event Horizon Telescope selected M87*the black hole in one of our nearby galaxies, instead of the subject of humanity’s first black hole image Sgr A*, the one at the center of the Milky Way. It was easier to inspect the center of a galaxy that we can see panoramically. (The EHT team eventually managed to obtain an image of Sgr A*. That was humanity’s second image of the black hole.)
In this view of the Milky Way’s core, Chandra data leads the charge, its observations seen in orange, green, blue and purple.
NASA then moves on to Remnant of Kepler’s supernovawhich according to the agency represents the remains of a white dwarf that exploded after suffering a thermonuclear explosion.
White dwarfs they are the dying cores of stars that once thrived and shone as our sun currently does. One day our Sun will also become a white dwarf.
In this image, data from Chandra is seen in blue and shows a “powerful shock wave that ripped through space after the detonation,” NASA explains, while infrared data from Spitzer is seen in red and optical light of the Hubble Space Telescope is seen in red. cyan and yellow. The last two show debris from the destroyed star.
To be clear, all the colors mentioned may not be easily distinguishable due to the way scientists overlay certain information. For example, if you overlay yellow data over red data, you would see a more orange hue. If you’d like to see all the colors individually, however, here’s a page on Chandra’s website which also shows non-overlapping images of the discussed portraits.
Next we have ESO 137-001, a galaxy moving through space at 1.5 million miles per hour (2.4 million km/h) leaving behind two tails composed of superheated gas.
Chandra observations capture this gas in blue, the VLT indicates the presence of hydrogen in red, and Hubble’s optical and infrared data are shown in orange and cyan. (Yes, Hubble can collect infrared light like the James Webb Space Telescope, but the JWST is much better at this.)
Staying on the subject of galaxies, NASA then highlights the spiral galaxy NGC 1365 in a rather spooky scene. This kingdom, according to the declarationit contains a supermassive black hole fueled by a constant flow of material.
Chandra’s observations, shown in purple to create that Barbie-like glow, reveal some of that material that has yet to enter the vacuum. The JWST’s impressive infrared sensors also contributed to this look, offering red, green and blue accents that are quite difficult to see in this version.
For the final of the so-called “Fab Five” images, scientists offer a dream vision of the consequences of a star’s collapse. This is the Vela Pulsar, spied by NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE), Chandra and Hubble instruments. The data from these instruments are distributed in light blue, purple and yellow respectively.
But despite the “Fab Five” title, it’s worth noting that these images could also collectively be called the “Fab Million.” It may seem a little strange, but what I’m saying is that it’s really hard not to focus on the sheer wealth of stars, galaxies and who knows what else is present in the background of these photos.
Each of those sparks represents a cosmic wonder just as beautiful as the one we see up close, in the same way that every image we take of someone in public tends to have in the background people with lives as rich as our subject’s.
Day after day, each of those sparks seems to come to the fore, thanks to our minds and our machines.