NASA, ESA, and Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA), W. Blair (STScI/ JHU) and R. O'Connell (UVA) / TASCHEN
NASA, ESA, and Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA), W. Blair (STScI/ JHU) and R. O'Connell (UVA) / TASCHEN

15 Magnificent Images from the Hubble Telescope

NASA, ESA, and Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA), W. Blair (STScI/ JHU) and R. O'Connell (UVA) / TASCHEN
NASA, ESA, and Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA), W. Blair (STScI/ JHU) and R. O'Connell (UVA) / TASCHEN

On April 24, 1990, the Hubble Telescope hitched a ride aboard the space shuttle Discovery and began its ascent into low-earth orbit, where it has remained ever since, exploring the great unknown and projecting images that have helped scientists and the public at large make better sense of our place in the universe.

On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the telescope’s launch, TASCHEN has released a new book, Expanding Universe. Photographs from the Hubble Space Telescope, offering a collection of amazing images from the 'scope, which has explored everything from black holes to exoplanets. Here are 15 of its most magnificent pictures.


NASA, ESA, and Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)

HST The Hubble Space Telescope. Classification: Cassegrain Telescope; Position: Earth’s Orbit; Distance from earth: 350 mi; Instrument/year: Photo by Space Shuttle Crew, 1999.


NASA, ESA, and Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration, and H. Bond (STScI/PSU)

RS Puppis. Classification: Variable Star, Nebula; Position: 08h 13m, –34° 34' (Puppis); Distance from earth: 6,500 ly; Instrument/year: ACS/WFC, 2010.


NASA, ESA, and Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA), J. Gallagher (U. Wisconsin), M. Mountain (STScI), and P. Puxley (NSF)

M82 Cigar Galaxy. Classification: Galaxy; Position: 09h 55m, +69° 40' (Ursa Major); Distance from earth: 12,000,000 ly; Instrument/year: ACS/WFC, 2006.


NASA, ESA, and E. Karkoschka (U. Arizona)

Jupiter & Ganymede. Classification: Planet & Moon; Position: Variable; Distance from earth: 443,000,000 mi; Instrument/year: WFPC2, 2007.


NASA, ESA, and Hubble Heritage (STSci/AURA)

Barnard 33 Horsehead Nebula. Classification: Dark Nebula; Position: 05h 40m, –02° 27' (Orion); Distance from earth: 1,600 ly; Instrument/year: WFC3/IR, 2012.


NASA, H. Ford (JHU), G. Illingworth (UCSC/LO), M. CLampin and G. Hartiq (STScI), the ACS Science Team

NGC 2264 Cone Nebula. Classification: Star-forming Nebula; Position: 06h 41m, +09° 25' (Monoceros); Distance from earth: 2,500 ly; Instrument/year: ACS/WFC, 2002.


NASA, ESA, and Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)

M16 Eagle Nebula. Classification: Star-forming Nebula; Position: 18h 18m, –13° 49' (Serpens); Distance from earth: 6,500 ly; Instrument/year: ACS/WFC, 2004.


NASA, ESA, and Hubble SM4 ERO Team

NGC 6302 Bug Nebula. Classification: Planetary Nebula; Position: 17h 13m, –37° 06' (Scorpius); Distance from earth: 3,800 ly; Instrument/year: WFC3/UVIS, 2009.


NASA, ESA, and J. Hester (ASU)

M1 Crab Nebula; Classification: Supernova Remnant; Position: 05h 34m, +22° 00' (Taurus); Distance from earth: 6,500 ly; Instrument/year: WFPC2, 1999, 2000.


NASA, ESA, and Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)

M16 Eagle Nebula. Classification: Star-forming Nebula; Position: 18h 18m, –13° 49' (Serpens); Distance from earth: 6,500 ly; Instrument/year: WFC3/IR, 2014.


NASA, ESA, and Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)

M16 Eagle Nebula. Classification: Star-forming Nebula; Position: 18h 18m, –13° 49' (Serpens); Distance from earth: 6,500 ly; Instrument/year: WFC3/UVIS, 2014.


NASA, ESA, and Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA), W. Blair (STScI/ JHU) and R. O'Connell (UVA)

M83 Southern Pinwheel Galaxy. Classification: Barred Spiral Galaxy; Position: 13h 37m, –29° 51' (Hydra); Distance from earth: 15,000,000 ly; Instrument/year: WFC3/UVIS, 2009–2012.


NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage (STSci/AURA), B. Holwerda (STScI) and J. Dalcanton (U. of Washington)

2MASX J00482185-2507365. Classification: Spiral Galaxy; Position: 00h 48m, –25° 08' (Sculptor); Distance from earth: 780,000,000 ly; Instrument/year: ACS/WFC, 2006.



Hubble Repairmen, STS-103, December 27, 1999. From their perch 350 miles above Earth’s surface, astronauts Steven Smith and John Grunsfeld replace the gyroscopes in rate sensor units inside Hubble.


NASA, ESA, and Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA) Acknowledgment: M.H. Wong (STScI/UC Berkeley) and C. Go (Philippines)

M81, NGC 3031. Classification: Spiral Galaxy; Position: 09h 55m, +69° 03' (Ursa Major); Distance from earth: 11,600,000 ly; Instrument/year: ACS/WFC, 2004-2006.

Big Questions
What is Mercury in Retrograde, and Why Do We Blame Things On It?

Crashed computers, missed flights, tensions in your workplace—a person who subscribes to astrology would tell you to expect all this chaos and more when Mercury starts retrograding for the first time this year on Friday, March 23. But according to an astronomer, this common celestial phenomenon is no reason to stay cooped up at home for weeks at a time.

"We don't know of any physical mechanism that would cause things like power outages or personality changes in people," Dr. Mark Hammergren, an astronomer at Chicago's Adler Planetarium, tells Mental Floss. So if Mercury doesn’t throw business dealings and relationships out of whack when it appears to change direction in the sky, why are so many people convinced that it does?


Mercury retrograde—as it's technically called—was being written about in astrology circles as far back as the mid-18th century. The event was noted in British agricultural almanacs of the time, which farmers would read to sync their planting schedules to the patterns of the stars. During the spiritualism craze of the Victorian era, interest in astrology boomed, with many believing that the stars affected the Earth in a variety of (often inconvenient) ways. Late 19th-century publications like The Astrologer’s Magazine and The Science of the Stars connected Mercury retrograde with heavy rainfall. Characterizations of the happening as an "ill omen" also appeared in a handful of articles during that period, but its association with outright disaster wasn’t as prevalent then as it is today.

While other spiritualist hobbies like séances and crystal gazing gradually faded, astrology grew even more popular. By the 1970s, horoscopes were a newspaper mainstay and Mercury retrograde was a recurring player. Because the Roman god Mercury was said to govern travel, commerce, financial wealth, and communication, in astrological circles, Mercury the planet became linked to those matters as well.

"Don’t start anything when Mercury is retrograde," an April 1979 issue of The Baltimore Sun instructed its readers. "A large communications organization notes that magnetic storms, disrupting messages, are prolonged when Mercury appears to be going backwards. Mercury, of course, is the planet associated with communication." The power attributed to the event has become so overblown that today it's blamed for everything from digestive problems to broken washing machines.


Though hysteria around Mercury retrograde is stronger than ever, there's still zero evidence that it's something we should worry about. Even the flimsiest explanations, like the idea that the gravitational pull from Mercury influences the water in our bodies in the same way that the moon controls the tides, are easily deflated by science. "A car 20 feet away from you will exert a stronger pull of gravity than the planet Mercury does," Dr. Hammergren says.

To understand how little Mercury retrograde impacts life on Earth, it helps to learn the physical process behind the phenomenon. When the planet nearest to the Sun is retrograde, it appears to move "backwards" (east to west rather than west to east) across the sky. This apparent reversal in Mercury's orbit is actually just an illusion to the people viewing it from Earth. Picture Mercury and Earth circling the Sun like cars on a racetrack. A year on Mercury is shorter than a year on Earth (88 Earth days compared to 365), which means Mercury experiences four years in the time it takes us to finish one solar loop.

When the planets are next to one another on the same side of the Sun, Mercury looks like it's moving east to those of us on Earth. But when Mercury overtakes Earth and continues its orbit, its straight trajectory seems to change course. According to Dr. Hammergren, it's just a trick of perspective. "Same thing if you were passing a car on a highway, maybe going a little bit faster than they are," he says. "They're not really going backwards, they just appear to be going backwards relative to your motion."

Embedded from GIFY

Earth's orbit isn't identical to that of any other planet in the solar system, which means that all the planets appear to move backwards at varying points in time. Planets farther from the Sun than Earth have even more noticeable retrograde patterns because they're visible at night. But thanks to astrology, it's Mercury's retrograde motion that incites dread every few months.

Dr. Hammergren blames the superstition attached to Mercury, and astrology as a whole, on confirmation bias: "[Believers] will say, 'Aha! See, there's a shake-up in my workplace because Mercury's retrograde.'" He urges people to review the past year and see if the periods of their lives when Mercury was retrograde were especially catastrophic. They'll likely find that misinterpreted messages and technical problems are fairly common throughout the year. But as Dr. Hammergren says, when things go wrong and Mercury isn't retrograde, "we don't get that hashtag. It's called Monday."

This story originally ran in 2017.

science fiction
Why So Many Aliens in Pop Culture Look Familiar

Aliens have been depicted countless times in cinema, from Georges Méliès's A Trip to the Moon (1902) to James Cameron's Avatar (2009). But despite the advancements in special-effects technology over the past century, most aliens we see on screen still share a lot of similarities—mainly, they look, move, and interact with the world like humans do. Vox explains how the classic alien look came to be in their new video below.

When you picture an alien, you may imagine a being with reptilian skin or big, black eyes, but the basic components of a human body—two arms, two legs, and a head with a face—are likely all there. In reality, finding an intelligent creature that evolved all those same features on a planet millions of light-years away would be an extraordinary coincidence. If alien life does exist, it may not look like anything we've ever seen on Earth.

But when it comes to science fiction, accuracy isn't always the goal. Creating an alien character humans can relate to may take priority. Or, the alien's design may need to work as a suit that can be worn by human performers. The result is a version of extraterrestrial life that looks alien— but not too alien—to movie audiences.

So if aliens probably won't have four limbs, two eyes, and a mouth, what would they look like if we ever met them person? These experts have some theories.

[h/t Vox]


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