Tuesday, May 11, 2010

On the Glory of Nebulae

Hello, blogosphere! I'm pretty elated, having just destroyed my first final. It was for my history of rock music course (best class evar, by the way). This is the class where I sat in the front row and took careful notes every day. On the course evaluation, when it asked what I could have done to be a better learner, I sincerely said "Nothing". The class is so good that you want to pay perfect attention every day so as not to miss anything. The best question was "Compare three heavy metal genres we discussed in class", for which I easily wrote about twice as much as necessary. Good times. Now I just have my three difficult finals to go before Summer arrives!

Anyway, on to the topic I randomly selected from my list of blog topics. Namely: nebulae! We extensively studied these stellar phenomena and how they form in astrophysics, and I am convinced they were created by God to BLOW OUR TINY MINDS. Take a look.
This is the Eagle Nebula. It is 92 trillion kilometers tall. You might recognize this picture of part of it, known as the "Pillars of Creation".
Nebulae like this one are large clouds of dust and gas that eventually collapse, heating up to the point where they form stars. Large nebulae like this are star factories! They take on interesting shapes as star formation and supernovae blow the dust around, creating "holes" in the cloud.

Then we have the Crab Nebula:
Not all nebulae are centers of star birth. The Crab Nebula was formed by a supernova; it's the outward-traveling remnants of an exploded star. Pretty cool, no?

This nebula isn't as well-photographed, but its's formed around the largest known star, VY Canis Majoris, which is about 2,000 times the diameter of the sun. If it were at the center of the Solar System, it would extend all the way out to the orbit of Saturn.
And the Homunculus Nebula, around the most luminous (brightest) known star.
These nebulae are formed by extremely massive stars that shine so brightly that they literally can't hold themselves together, blowing their outer layers off in extremely impressive clouds. My astrophysics professor apparently helped take the picture that led to the naming of the Homunculus nebula. (it was poorer quality than this one and kind of looked like a baby...)

The Ring Nebula, one of the most symmetric ones:

The Ring Nebula is formed by a star not too unlike our sun that reached the final stages of its evolution, becoming a helium-burning red giant that blew its outer layers off similarly to the huge stars above on a smaller scale to produce an especially symmetric nebula. (The white dot in the center is the remnant of the star)

This is the Orion Nebula, another hotbed of star formation. My fractal flames are cool and all, but this completely blows them all away.
Some of these images are false-color, meaning they're made from a variety of frequencies of light that aren't necessarily visible, but that last one is in visible light, meaning if you could somehow travel to the Orion nebula, you would actually see that. The Earth has some pretty cool views, but nothing that can compare to nebulae. Truly God's creation is an amazing thing indeed.

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