Daily Picture Show

Happy 400th Birthday, Dear Telescope

Exactly 400 years ago in 1609, one Galileo Galilei popularized a new invention: the telescope. The man had crazy gadgets to support crazy theories — such as Copernicus' idea that the sun was at the center of the universe. He was condemned by the church for his subversive ideas, but both his telescope and ideas lived on.

  • The Sagittarius Arm lies toward the center of our Milky Way galaxy.
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    The Sagittarius Arm lies toward the center of our Milky Way galaxy.
  • Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, is the most famous star cluster. From 450 light-years away, it appears to be made of only seven stars, but it actually comprises around 1,000.
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    Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, is the most famous star cluster. From 450 light-years away, it appears to be made of only seven stars, but it actually comprises around 1,000.
  • The Vela supernova remnant is 815 light-years away.
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    The Vela supernova remnant is 815 light-years away.
  • The horsehead nebula, located in the Orion constellation about 1,270 light-years away, is one of the few that is discernible without a telescope.
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    The horsehead nebula, located in the Orion constellation about 1,270 light-years away, is one of the few that is discernible without a telescope.
  • The Orion Nebula is approximately 24 light-years across.
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    The Orion Nebula is approximately 24 light-years across.
  • The Cat's Eye Nebula is one of the most complex planetary nebulae known and is located over 2,000 light-years away.
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    The Cat's Eye Nebula is one of the most complex planetary nebulae known and is located over 2,000 light-years away.
  • Two central stars are located within the Southern Ring Nebula.
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    Two central stars are located within the Southern Ring Nebula.
  • The Cat's Paw Nebula is a star-formation region located 5,500 light-years away.
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    The Cat's Paw Nebula is a star-formation region located 5,500 light-years away.
  • At 2.5 million light-years away, the Andromeda Galaxy is one of the farthest objects visible to the naked eye. If there were life forms in this galaxy and they were to look at Earth through a telescope, they would see a planet not yet inhabited by humans.
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    At 2.5 million light-years away, the Andromeda Galaxy is one of the farthest objects visible to the naked eye. If there were life forms in this galaxy and they were to look at Earth through a telescope, they would see a planet not yet inhabited by humans.

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Far Out: A Space-Time Chronicle by Michael Benson, Abrams 2009 hide caption

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To celebrate the telescope's 400th anniversary, journalist/photographer Michael Benson has written a new book. Far Out: A Space-Time Chronicle, similar to his previous award-winning book Beyond: Visions of the Interplanetary Probes, is a compilation of those humbling deep-space images that never cease to amaze (me, at least). The images come from some of the largest and most powerful space-based telescopes scattered across the globe, such as the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii and the European Southern Observatory in the Chilean Andes.

Placed in chronological order, from within a few hundred light-years of Earth to 13 billion light-years away, the images tell the story of our universe. The coolest part of the book, though, is that Benson simultaneously tells the history of Earth. For example, next to images of Orion's Nebula is a map of the Carolingian Empire (i.e., France about 1,300 years ago). That's because it was about 1,300 years ago that light from Orion started traveling toward Earth. In other words, if a human were to look at Earth with a telescope from Orion, he would see the world of Charlemagne. It's pretty neat.

Also neat: the discovery of 32 new planets outside our solar system!

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