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Stunning Photo of Spiral Galaxy Messier 77 Shows Its Beauty and Power

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The latest imagery from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) is in, and it's stunning. But ESO experts say that, while it may look placid in its portrait, the spiral galaxy Messier 77 is anything but chill.

Messier 77 is one of 110 celestial objects named for the 18th-century French astronomer Charles Messier. Messier was a hilariously single-minded man who really only cared about finding comets with his telescope. But in order to do so, he had to look at, and past, a lot of other stuff in the sky.

To spare himself and other comet hunters the boring chore of examining every gorgeous, glittering object in the sky, Messier began compiling a list of dazzling nebulae and star clusters—or, as he liked to call them, "time-wasting objects to avoid."

The 77th item on the list was discovered in 1780 by Pierre Méchain, who frequently collaborated with Messier. Méchain thought the bright object was a nebula; Messier, in his list, called it a nebulous cluster. Later astronomers with better telescopes would eventually learn that both men were wrong: Messier 77 is a galaxy. A whirling, enormous galaxy measuring more than 120,000 light-years across.

The galaxy is located in the constellation Cetus (the sea monster), about 47 million light-years from Earth.

Illustration of the constellation Cetus, the sea monster.
ESO

Pretty though it may be, Messier 77 is a rough customer. It's so big and hefty that its gravity twists and warps other galaxies nearby. And the calm dark spot that looks like the eye of a storm is actually a supermassive black hole. Star stuff that ventures too close to the blackness gets squashed and superheated and begins radiating huge amounts of energy.

Like many space photos, the VLT image above is a composite of four different images, each from a different wavelength. Hot young stars in the galaxy's spiral arms show up here as pink, while the red lines are strand-like structures in the surrounding gas.

You can find more gorgeous images of celestial objects at the ESO's Cosmic Gems website.

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Space
Now You Can Train to Be an Astronaut on Your Smartphone
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Just because you don't work for NASA doesn't mean you'll never make it as an astronaut. In the world of private space tourism, a little training could be all you need. And there's an app for that.

Space Nation, a Finnish space tourism startup, recently launched Space Nation Navigator, which the company touts as the first astronaut training app in the world. The app aims to train future space travelers using games, quizzes, and fitness challenges that fall into three categories: "body," "mind," and "social."

Each of the challenges is tailored to help you develop the skills you'd need to survive in space—even the mundane ones. One mission is called "Did you clean behind the fridge?" and is designed to highlight the unpleasant chores crew members on the ISS have to do to keep things tidy. There are "survival" quizzes that test your knowledge of how to properly build a fire, read a map, and dispose of your poop in the forest. The app also plugs into your smartphone fitness data so that you can participate in athletic challenges, like a 650-foot sprint designed to train you to escape a meteor impact zone.

Screenshots of the Space Nation Navigator app
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"Space Nation Navigator offers a way for anyone, anywhere to have a 15-minute astronaut experience every day. These astronaut skills—team building, problem solving, positive life hacks—are not just vital to survive in space," Space Nation CEO Kalle Vähä-Jaakkola said in a press statement. "They are also crucial in your daily life."

New challenges are added to your queue every few hours, and you can compete against other users for high scores. If you get enough points, you can become eligible for real-life training experiences with Space Nation, including a trip to Iceland. In 2019, Space Nation plans to hold an international competition to find one astronaut that the program will send to space.

If you're going to start training, we suggest you take some of the tests Project Mercury applicants faced back in 1958 to see how you'd stack up against the first NASA astronauts.

Get it: iOS, Android

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Big Questions
If Earth is Always Moving, Then How Do We See the Same Constellations Every Night?
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Luis Medrano:

6700 mph is nothing in cosmological speeds and distances. Constellations are freakin’ far away.

Get in a car at night and drive on a straight road, then look at the moon. The angle of the moon in respect to your point of view doesn’t change; it seems like the moon is following you wherever you go. Meanwhile, things that are really close to you—like electric poles, roadside buildings, and trees—seem to fly by really fast.

The effect is known as parallax. Things that are close seem to move faster and “travel more distance” (not really) than things that are far away.

In the video above, there are several objects in perspective. The light in the center, which represents the sun, was placed so far away you can barely see it move.

The sun is only eight light-minutes away; that’s 146 million km on average. At human scale it seems like a lot, but in cosmic distances it is nothing. Orion, for example, has stars that are from 243 to 1360 light years away from us. Imagine traveling at the speed of light for 1360 years. That’s how far these stars are. And these are not even the farthest stars. Some stars are Giga-light years away from us.

Now, with the proper precision instruments you can indeed notice the parallax in distant stars, just not with the naked eye. Furthermore, our solar system has moved so much since the early days of astronomy and astrology, the constellations do not correspond to the early astrology maps. The constellations appear shifted.

As a free info nugget: In case your life is ruled by astrology, whatever sign you think you are, you are not.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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