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International Year of Astronomy 2009 Featured Print

International Year of Astronomy 2009

In celebration of the International Year of Astronomy 2009, NASA's Great Observatories -- the Hubble Space Telescope, the Spitzer Space Telescope, and the Chandra X-ray Observatory -- have produced a matched trio of images of the central region of our Milky Way galaxy. Each image shows the telescope's different wavelength view of the galactic center region, illustrating the unique science each observatory conducts. In this spectacular image, observations using infrared light and X-ray light see through the obscuring dust and reveal the intense activity near the galactic core. Note that the center of the galaxy is located within the bright white region to the right of and just below the middle of the image. The entire image width covers about one-half a degree, about the same angular width as the full moon. Spitzer's infrared-light observations provide a detailed and spectacular view of the galactic center region [Figure 1 (top frame of poster)]. The swirling core of our galaxy harbors hundreds of thousands of stars that cannot be seen in visible light. These stars heat the nearby gas and dust. These dusty clouds glow in infrared light and reveal their often dramatic shapes. Some of these clouds harbor stellar nurseries that are forming new generations of stars. Like the downtown of a large city, the center of our galaxy is a crowded, active, and vibrant place. Although best known for its visible-light images, Hubble also observes over a limited range of infrared light [Figure 2 (middle frame of poster)]. The galactic center is marked by the bright patch in the lower right. Along the left side are large arcs of warm gas that have been heated by clusters of bright massive stars. In addition, Hubble uncovered many more massive stars across the region. Winds and radiation from these stars create the complex structures seen in the gas throughout the image.This sweeping panorama is one of the sharpest infrared pictures ever made of the galactic center region. X-rays detected by Chandra expose a wealth of exotic objects and high-energy features [Figure 3 (bottom frame of poster)]. In this image, pink represents lower energy X-rays and blue indicates higher energy. Hundreds of small dots show emission from material around black holes and other dense stellar objects. A supermassive black hole -- some four million times more massive than the Sun -- resides within the bright region in the lower right. The diffuse X-ray light comes from gas heated to millions of degrees by outflows from the supermassive black hole, winds from giant stars, and stellar explosions. This central region is the most energetic place in our galaxy


Pale Blue Dot Revisited Featured Print

Pale Blue Dot Revisited

For the 30th anniversary of one of the most iconic images taken by NASA's Voyager mission, a new version of the image known as "the Pale Blue Dot." Planet Earth is visible as a bright speck within the sunbeam just right of center and appears softly blue, as in the original version published in 1990 (see PIA00452). This updated version uses modern image-processing software and techniques to revisit the well-known Voyager view while attempting to respect the original data and intent of those who planned the images. In 1990, the Voyager project planned to shut off the Voyager 1 spacecraft's imaging cameras to conserve power and because the probe, along with its sibling Voyager 2, would not fly close enough to any other objects to take pictures. Before the shutdown, the mission commanded the probe to take a series of 60 images designed to produce what they termed the "Family Portrait of the Solar System." Executed on Valentine's Day 1990, this sequence returned images for making color views of six of the solar system's planets and also imaged the Sun in monochrome. The popular name of this view is traced to the title of the 1994 book by Voyager imaging scientist Carl Sagan, who originated the idea of using Voyager's cameras to image the distant Earth and played a critical role in enabling the family portrait images to be taken. The image of Earth was originally published by NASA in 1990. It is republished here to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Family Portrait of the Solar System (see PIA00451) and the Pale Blue Dot image in particular. The planet occupies less than a single pixel in the image and thus is not fully resolved. (The actual width of the planet on the sky was less than one pixel in Voyager's camera.) By contrast, Jupiter and Saturn were large enough to fill a full pixel in their family portrait images. The direction of the Sun is toward the bottom of the view (where the image is brightest). Rays of sunlight scattered within the camera optics stretch across the scene. One of those light rays happens to have intersected dramatically with Earth. From Voyager 1's vantage point — a distance of approximately 3.8 billion miles (6 billion kilometers) — Earth was separated from the Sun by only a few degrees. The close proximity of the inner planets to the Sun was a key factor preventing these images from being taken earlier in the mission, as our star was still close and bright enough to damage the cameras with its blinding glare. The view is a color composite created by combining images taken using green, blue and violet spectral filters by the Voyager 1 Narrow-Angle Camera. They were taken at 4:48 GMT on Feb. 14, 1990, just 34 minutes before Voyager 1 powered off its cameras forever. Like the original version, this is technically a "false-color" view, as the color-filter images used were mapped to red, green and blue, respectively. The brightness of each color channel was balanced relative to the others, which is likely why the scene appears brighter but less grainy than the original. In addition, the color was balanced so that the main sunbeam (which overlays Earth) appears white, like the white light of the Sun. At its original resolution, the newly processed color image is 666 by 659 pixels in size; this is Figure A. The main image is an enlarged version. The image was processed by JPL engineer and image processing enthusiast Kevin M. Gill with input from two of the image's original planners, Candy Hansen and William Kosmann.

Pioneer F Plaque Symbology Featured Print

Pioneer F Plaque Symbology

The Pioneer F spacecraft, destined to be the first man made object to escape from the solar system into interstellar space, carries this pictorial plaque. It is designed to show scientifically educated inhabitants of some other star system, who might intercept it millions of years from now, when Pioneer was launched, from where, and by what kind of beings. (With the hope that they would not invade Earth.) The design is etched into a 6 inch by 9 inch gold-anodized aluminum plate, attached to the spacecraft's attenna support struts in a position to help shield it from erosion by interstellar dust. The radiating lines at left represents the positions of 14 pulsars, a cosmic source of radio energy, arranged to indicate our sun as the home star of our civilization. The "1-" symbols at the ends of the lines are binary numbers that represent the frequencies of these pulsars at the time of launch of Pioneer F relative of that to the hydrogen atom shown at the upper left with a "1" unity symbol. The hydrogen atom is thus used as a "universal clock, " and the regular decrease in the frequencies of the pulsars will enable another civilization to determine the time that has elapsed since Pioneer F was launched. The hydrogen is also used as a "universal yardstick" for sizing the human figures and outline of the spacecraft shown on the right. The hydrogen wavelength, about 8 inches, multiplied by the binary number representing "8" shown next to the woman gives her height, 64 inches. The figures represent the type of creature that created Pioneer. The man's hand is raised in a gesture of good will. Across the bottom are the planets, ranging outward from the Sun, with the spacecraft trajectory arching away from Earth, passing Mars, and swinging by Jupiter.