[The planetary nebula M 2-9, winds from a dying star. Credit: NASA / ESA / Hubble Legacy Archive / Judy Schmidt]
Pic o’ the Letter
A cool or lovely or mind-bending astronomical image/video with a short description so you can grok it
Look, there are just some times in your life when you need a jaw-droppingly devastating image of a gorgeous face-on spiral galaxy 22 million light years away.
I mean, we’ve all been there, right?
So here you go.
[NGC 3344, a face-on spiral galaxy in the constellation of Leo Minor. Credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA]
Ooooooo. Now, I had to criminally compress this image to get it to be 1000 pixels wide for the newsletter as well as keep the filesize reasonable for email. I super-duper strongly urge you to go to the Hubble page for it where they have a 3900 x 3750 pixel image of it that will wash over you with the profundity this galaxy deserves.
NGC 3344 is a spiral (duh) galaxy, and it’s relatively close to us at 22 million light years. It’s part of a group of galaxies called the Leo Spur. The cartography of all this is a little confusing, but the Milky Way galaxy is part of a group called the Local Group, which has a few dozen galaxies in it bound by gravity, and is maybe 10 million light years across. This is part of a structure called the Local Sheet, which is roughly 40 million light years across, containing galaxies that all have roughly the same velocity through the Universe. The Leo Spur is the closest clot of galaxies outside the Local Sheet, which as a group has markedly different velocities from galaxies in our local region. It’s between us and the huge Virgo Cluster of galaxies, and while it’s not a physical member of the cluster, we’re all part of the Virgo Supercluster, which is vastly vaster, which itself is part of the Laniakea Supercluster, one of the largest structures in the Universe.
Phew. Like I said, confusing. Anyway, the point is NGC 3344 is close, but in a different cosmic neighborhood. This makes it a great target for Hubble, which can see individual stars in it and do all manners of studies of it. For example, there are different methods to get the distance to a galaxy by looking at the stars in it, and different astronomers have used Hubble to do this for NGC 3344. It’s also had its gas mapped, its massive stars examined, and more.
I found this out because the description on the Hubble page for the image says this image is a composite of shots taken through seven different filters, which is extremely unusual. Typically you get three, or sometimes four. Not seven.
Suspicious, I looked up the proposals submitted for the images taken (go here, scroll down, and click on Proposal ID to see them), and they are all over the place. Some were taken due to a supernova in the galaxy in 2012, too. They were all taken for different reasons, but they combined to create the absolutely spectacular image above.
Diversity is strength. And also beauty, when it works together.
What I’ve recently written on the blog, ICYMI
[Art depicting a star torn apart by a black hole. From Tuesday’s article. Credit: DESY, Science Communication Lab]
Monday 3 May, 2021: NASA extends the Mars helicopter mission, testing it for actual mission ops
Tuesday 4 May, 2021: A black hole tore a star apart and played with the debris
Wednesday 5 May, 2021: Another clue for Boyajian's Star: Still not aliens, but maybe a companion
Thursday 6 May, 2021: Don't panic, but a big Chinese rocket will make an uncontrolled re-entry this weekend
Friday 7 May, 2021: A huge cloud of expanding supernova debris was found hidden in plain sight
Upcoming Appearances/Shameless Self-Promotion
Where I’ll be doing things you can watch and listen to or read about
If you never watched Craig Ferguson host The Late Late Show on CBS a few years ago, you missed out. Irreverent (oh my so much), naughty, and so, so smart. My wife, daughter, and I would watch it all the time and it was always a treat.
At the end of each guest’s segment, he would offer them a chance to do something silly: for example, sit through an awkward pause with him (way funnier than it sounds), or play the harmonica. Thing is, if you could actually play a harmonica, you would win the Golden Mouth Organ.
I was recently informed that there is a video compilation of all 22 winners of the Golden Mouth Organ on YouTube. You can watch the whole thing, because it’s really funny, but — and this is just my opinion, that of an objective scientist who writes about literally the entire Universe for a living — the part at 32:08 is the literally best thing to have happened in all of human history[maybe some NSFWish dialogue]:
I had so much fun that day! My wife and daughter were backstage during my segment, and we got a chance to talk to Craig for a sec after the show; he is a very gracious host and just whipcrack smart and funny.
In fact the episode is on YouTube, like for example, here:
Oh yeah, probably NSFW repartee there, too. BTW the second ever Golden Mouth Organ winner was my science communication colleague and friend Jen Ouellette. It was fun to see her again.
And you know what? I’ll leave you with this.
Thanks, @Geo_B for letting me know this video exists!
You can email me at email@example.com (though replies can take a while), and all my social media outlets are gathered together at about.me. Also, if you don’t already, please subscribe to this newsletter! And feel free to tell a friend or nine, too. Thanks!