This may not look like much, but it is the first colour image of Pluto and its moon Charon snapped by the New Horizons spacecraft, currently travelling like a bullet towards the far-away dwarf planet at a speed of 50,000 km/h.
This is the world’s first ever image from the surface of a comet, taken a few hours ago 500 million kilometres away from Earth on a small rock just 4km across by a little robotic probe and transmitted back to us. The radio signal took a full 28min to travel through space to reach Earth. The probe is called Philae, dropped from the Rosetta spacecraft yesterday after a 10-year journey through space. The mission is managed by the European Space Agency.
Yesterday I was given the opportunity to visit the 100-metre Effelsberg telescope, which is operated by the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy based in Bonn.
Located some 40km south-west of Bonn, the 40min drive to the Effelsberg takes you up into low mountains and past some beautiful countryside scenery of forests, small villages nestled in valleys and inviting beer gardens (I have yet to visit a telescope that is located in an un-inviting region. Smart, these astronomers…)
You might not have noticed (and that’s okay really), but for a few days now, astronomers around the world have been pretty excited.
The top image shows what M82 – a galaxy located near the constellation of Ursa Major (the Big Dipper) – looked like until recently, and how it looks now. Notice something? A new light has appeared. It’s not a new star, but just the opposite, a star dying in a massive explosion called a supernova. And it took the light from this dying star more than 11 million years to reach us.
This stunning photograph by Mark Gee (full res here), aptly named “Guiding Light to the Stars”, won the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition for 2013 in the category “Earth and Space”.
The caption reads:
A spectacular view of the Milky Way arching over the coast of the North Island of New Zealand. The brightest light in the image is from the Cape Palliser Lighthouse. The central patch of light in the sky marks the bulge of stars at the heart of our Galaxy, 26,000 light years away. To the left, the two Magellanic Clouds, small satellite galaxies much further away, appear as faint smudges in the sky.