Category Archives: Deep Space Objects

What is a Neutron Star, Anyway?

Neutron stars are strange cosmic beasts. Stellar corpses that are several times the mass of our Sun but only about the width of Manhattan, they can contain a mountain’s worth of star-stuff within the space of a sugar cube, creating all sorts of weird physics that requires funny-sounding names like “quark-gluon plasma” to even try to describe what’s going on. The video above, created by Munich-based design studio Kurzgesagt (which means “in a nutshell” in German) illustrates how neutron stars form and what we think is happening on, around, and inside them.

See more In a Nutshell videos by Kurzgesagt on YouTube here, and find some interesting neutron star facts below:

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Our Five-Trillion-Mile Close Call: the Star(s) That Skimmed the Solar System

Artist's rendering of two stars that made a close pass by the Sun 70,000 years ago. (Michael Osadciw/University of Rochester)

Artist’s rendering of two stars, a red dwarf and a brown dwarf, that made a close pass by the Sun 70,000 years ago. (Michael Osadciw/University of Rochester)

It’s like something out of a Hollywood film or a science fiction novel: a dark star sneaks up on Earth from just outside the Solar System, discovered too late to do anything about it (and really, what could we do?) and plows through the cloud of comets that surrounds the Sun like a haze of icy gnats, sending them flying everywhere… including on collision courses with Earth. Mass hysteria ensues.

Except that this isn’t just a story concept – scientists think this is actually something that happened 70,000 years ago! Minus the mass hysteria, of course… our ancestors were just beginning to settle down in the fertile lands of the Middle East after wandering out of Africa and would have had no idea what was happening at the edges of the Solar System (besides maybe a bright star occasionally flaring up in the night sky.)

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Hubble’s Stunning Star-Filled View of the Andromeda Galaxy

A crop of Hubble's newest image of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31). Credit: NASA, ESA, J. Dalcanton, B.F. Williams, and L.C. Johnson (University of Washington), the PHAT team, and R. Gendler.

My god it’s full of stars! A crop of Hubble’s newest image of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31). Credit: NASA, ESA, J. Dalcanton, B.F. Williams, and L.C. Johnson (University of Washington), the PHAT team, and R. Gendler.

It’s Hubble’s 25th anniversary in space this year but it seems like we’re the ones getting all the presents! Yesterday NASA released two new high-def versions of the famous “Pillars of Creation” image, and now today there’s this: Hubble’s most detailed image ever of the Andromeda Galaxy!

Containing over 100 million stars it’s not just the best view yet of Andromeda – it’s also the most expansive image ever made with Hubble. Although the galaxy is 2.5 million light-years away it extends across an area larger than the full Moon in the sky, so to create such a detailed mosaic Hubble had to obtain 7,398 images taken over 411 individual pointings! It’s 1.5 billion pixels covering an area over 40,000 light-years across.

According to NASA, it’s “like photographing a beach and resolving individual grains of sand.” Wow!

Check out the full image below:

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Hubble Gives Us Our Best View Yet Of The “Pillars of Creation”

Hubble's newest visible-light image of the Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula. Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Hubble’s newest visible-light image of the Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula. Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its launch this year and to commemorate the milestone it’s recently turned its gaze (during the course of about 15 orbits) back onto one of the most iconic targets of its career: the “Pillars of Creation,” five-light-year-high columns of cold gas in the process of being sculpted by the winds from hot young stars in the Eagle Nebula (M16), some 6,500 light-years away.

Previously imaged with Hubble in 1995, the Pillars really shine (no pun intended) in this new high-definition image acquired with the telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3, which was installed in May 2009 during STS-125, NASA’s final servicing mission for Hubble.

And in addition to visible-light* wavelengths Hubble’s WFC3 captured the Pillars in infrared as well, which pierces the dense, cold gas to reveal hidden stars inside – as well as turn the structures into eerie ghostlike shapes. Check out that version below:

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A Matter of Scale

Note: this post was first published on Feb. 22, 2011. I’m reposting it again today because 1. the video creator has since updated the soundtrack, and 2. it’s still awesome.


One of the things that fascinates me so much about the Universe is the incredible vastness of scale, distance and size.

On Earth we have virtually nothing to compare to the kinds of sizes seen in space. We look up at the stars and planets in the night sky but they are just bright points of light. Some brighter, some larger, some slightly different colors. But they’re still just points from where we stand. Even from space, seen by telescopes or by astronauts in orbit….still just points.

But they’re so much more than that, obviously.

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The Desert Dishes of Apollo Valley

Panorama of the Deep Space Network's Apollo Valley in Goldstone, CA (© Jason Major) CLICK FOR FULL SIZE

Panorama of the Deep Space Network’s Apollo Valley in Goldstone, CA (© Jason Major) CLICK FOR FULL SIZE

Deep in the Mojave desert of central California, scattered among the scrub-covered hills and rugged, rock-strewn fields, are enormous white radar dishes pointed at the sky — NASA’s “ears” for listening to the faint calls coming from its many spacecraft out exploring our solar system. I recently had the opportunity to pay a visit to the Deep Space Network complex in Goldstone (read my full account here) and while there took some photos of one of DSN’s most impressive sites: “Apollo Valley,” the home of DSS-24, -25, and -26, three giant 34-meter high-gain “Beam Waveguide” antennas (the first two of which are seen above) as well as the original Apollo dish that once received messages from Apollo 11 as it made its historic Moon landing.

With the spring desert flowers in bloom and the antennas gleaming white against the blue sky, it was an impressive sight! Click the image above for a full-sized version.

Learn more about Apollo Valley here.

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