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


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.

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.

Two Harvard Scientists Suggest 'Oumuamua Could Be, Uh, an Alien Probe

ESO/M. Kornmesser
ESO/M. Kornmesser

An odd, cigar-shaped object has been stumping scientists ever since it zoomed into our solar system last year. Dubbed 'Oumuamua (pronounced oh-MOO-ah-MOO-ah), it was first seen through the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii in October 2017. 'Oumuamua moved at an unusually high speed and in a different kind of orbit than those of comets or asteroids, leading scientists to conclude that it didn't originate in our solar system. It was the first interstellar object to arrive from somewhere else, but its visit was brief. After being spotted over Chile and other locales, 'Oumuamua left last January, leaving lots of questions in its wake.

Now, two researchers at Harvard University bury a surprising suggestion in a new paper that analyzes the object's movement: 'Oumuamua could be an alien probe. Sure, why not?

First, astrophysicists Shmuel Bialy and Abraham Loeb argue that 'Oumuamua is being driven through space by solar radiation pressure, which could explain its uncharacteristic speed. But for that theory to work, they calculate that the object must be unusually thin. Bialy and Loeb then analyze how such a slender object might withstand collisions with dust and gases, and the force of rotation, on its interstellar journey.

Then things get weird.

"A more exotic scenario is that 'Oumuamua may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization," they write [PDF]. They suggest that ‘Oumuamua could be be a lightsail—an artificial object propelled by radiation pressure—which also happens to be the technology that the Breakthrough Starshot initiative, of which Loeb is the advisory committee chair, is trying to send into space. "Considering an artificial origin, one possibility is that 'Oumuamua is a lightsail, floating in interstellar space as a debris from an advanced technological equipment,” they write.

Their paper, which was not peer-reviewed, was posted on the pre-print platform arXiv.

Loeb is well known for theorizing about alien tech. He previously suggested that intense radio signals from 2007 could be the work of aliens who travel through space on solar sails. However, Loeb acknowledged that this theory deals more with possibility than probability, The Washington Post noted. “It’s worth putting ideas out there and letting the data be the judge,” Loeb told the paper last year.

[h/t CNN]

A Team of Young Women Wants to Send Kyrgyzstan's First Satellite to Space

José Furtado y Antel, Wikimedia Commons // CC0 1.0
José Furtado y Antel, Wikimedia Commons // CC0 1.0

Kyrgyzstan is one of 123 countries that doesn't have a national space agency. That could soon change, thanks to a group of young programmers and engineers taking the matter into their own hands.

As The Next Web reports, the Kyrgyz Space Program is made up of 12 women ranging in age from 17 to 25 years old. They met in 2017, when journalist and TED fellow Bektour Iskender started a free course in his home country of Kyrgyzstan teaching young women there how to build robots and satellites.

The team has since made it its mission to build a cube satellite (CubeSat)—a smaller type of satellite that costs about $150,000 to put together. If they are able to construct the spacecraft, launch it into orbit, and send it to the International Space Station as planned, the project will mark the first time Kyrgyzstan has sent a satellite into space.

The Kyrgyz Space Program now meets twice a week in the offices of Kloop, a media outlet that's known for its support of feminist causes in a country where women still have a long way to go to reach parity. Even as more women start to get involved in Kyrgyzstan's politics, domestic violence, child marriage, and bride kidnappings are still rampant.

In order to accomplish their goal of sending a Kyrgyz satellite to orbit, the program has launched a crowdfunding campaign. Reaching the $2500-a-month marker means they can construct the CubeSat with guidance from the team who launched Lithuania's first satellite. If they reach the $10,000-a-month threshold, they will be able to send the CubeSat to the International Space Station. You can join the 120 people who've already supported their Patreon page by pledging today.

[h/t The Next Web]