Astronomers Create a Digital Atlas of Over 380,000 Galaxies

In the observ­able uni­verse, there are esti­mat­ed to be between 200 bil­lion to two tril­lion galax­ies. By com­par­i­son to these super-Sagan­ian num­bers, the 383,620 galax­ies cap­tured by the Siena Galaxy Atlas may seem like small pota­toes. But the SGA actu­al­ly rep­re­sents a land­mark achieve­ment among dig­i­tal astron­o­my cat­a­logs: as Saman­tha Hill writes in Astron­o­my, it draws its data from three Dark Ener­gy Spec­tro­scop­ic Instru­ment Lega­cy Sur­veys, which togeth­er con­sti­tute “one of the largest sur­veys ever con­duct­ed.” Com­ing to 7,637 down­load­able pages, it “presents a new pos­si­ble nam­ing con­ven­tion for the galax­ies, and cap­tures images of the objects in opti­cal and infrared wave­lengths. Each of the target’s data set includes a whole slew of oth­er infor­ma­tion includ­ing its size and mor­phol­o­gy.”

Though pub­licly acces­si­ble online, the for­mi­da­bly tech­ni­cal SGA may present the non-astronomer with a some­what steep learn­ing curve. One way to approach the archive through some of the espe­cial­ly impres­sive galax­ies it cap­tures is to orga­nize the list below its search fil­ters accord­ing to size. The images that result are not, of course, pho­tographs of the kind any of us could take by point­ing a cam­era up at the night sky, no mat­ter how pricey the cam­era. Rather, they’re the results, processed into visu­al leg­i­bil­i­ty, of enor­mous amounts of data col­lect­ed by advanced tele­scope and satel­lite.

To get more tech­ni­cal, the SGA is also “the first cos­mic atlas to fea­ture the light pro­files of galax­ies  —  a curve that describes how the bright­ness of the galaxy changes from its bright­est point, usu­al­ly at the cen­ter, to its dimmest, com­mon­ly at its edge.”

So writes’s Robert Lea, who also explains more about the SGA’s use­ful­ness to sci­en­tif­ic pro­fes­sion­als. It “rep­re­sents peak accu­ra­cy, promis­ing to be a gold mine of galac­tic infor­ma­tion for sci­en­tists aim­ing to inves­ti­gate every­thing from the births and evo­lu­tions of galax­ies to the dis­tri­b­u­tion of dark mat­ter and prop­a­ga­tion of grav­i­ta­tion­al waves through space.” Its data could also help astronomers “find the sources of grav­i­ta­tion­al wave sig­nals detect­ed on Earth, because these faint rip­ples in the very fab­ric of space and time wash over our plan­et after trav­el­ing for mil­lions of light years.” Even if you’re under­tak­ing no such search­es of your own, a trip through the SGA can still enhance your appre­ci­a­tion of how much human­i­ty has come to learn about these “near­by” galax­ies — and how much remains to be learned about all those that lie beyond. Enter the archive here.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Atlas of Space: Behold Bril­liant Maps of Con­stel­la­tions, Aster­oids, Plan­ets & “Every­thing in the Solar Sys­tem Big­ger Than 10km”

When Galax­ies Col­lide

What Would It Be Like to Fly Through the Uni­verse?

10,000 Galax­ies in 3D

Lux Aeter­na: A Jour­ney of Light, From Dis­tant Galax­ies to Small Drops of Water

NASA Releas­es a Mas­sive Online Archive: 140,000 Pho­tos, Videos & Audio Files Free to Search and Down­load

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Behold Colorful Geologic Maps of Mars Released by The United States Geological Survey

The USGS Astro­ge­ol­o­gy Sci­ence Cen­ter has recent­ly released a series of col­or­ful and intri­cate­ly-detailed maps of Mars. These col­or­ful maps, notes USGS, “pro­vide high­ly detailed views of the [plantet’s] sur­face and allow sci­en­tists to inves­ti­gate com­plex geo­log­ic rela­tion­ships both on and beneath the sur­face. These types of maps are use­ful for both plan­ning for and then con­duct­ing land­ed mis­sions.”

The map above lets you see Olym­pus Mons, the tallest vol­cano in the solar sys­tem, which stands more than twice the height of Mount Ever­est. The USGS goes on to add: “Map read­ers can visu­al­ize the caldera com­plex more eas­i­ly due to the detail that is avail­able at the 1:200,000 scale and the addi­tion of con­tour lines to the map. The map cov­ers a region that is rough­ly the size of the Dal­las-Ft. Worth met­ro­pol­i­tan area and is a detailed look at the volcano’s sum­mit that we have not seen before. This new view of the Olym­pus Mons caldera com­plex allows sci­en­tists to more eas­i­ly com­pare it to sim­i­lar fea­tures on Earth (known as ter­res­tri­al analogs) such as Hawaii’s Mau­na Loa.”

You can find more Mar­t­ian maps here.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Sur­face of Mars Shown in Stun­ning 4K Res­o­lu­tion

View and Down­load Near­ly 60,000 Maps from the U.S. Geo­log­i­cal Sur­vey (USGS)

Vin­tage Geo­log­i­cal Maps Get Turned Into 3D Topo­graph­i­cal Won­ders

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The First Surviving Photograph of the Moon (1840)

Every­one has been agog over the first pho­tos from the James Webb tele­scope, and for good rea­son. “These images,” Riv­ka Galchin writes at The New York­er, “car­ry news about the ear­ly uni­verse, the birth and death of stars, the col­li­sion of galax­ies, and the atmos­phere of exo­plan­ets.” They’re also “very, very pret­ty,” she writes, com­par­ing them to Ver­meer.

The clar­i­ty and lev­els of detailed infor­ma­tion about the ear­li­est galax­ies have even aston­ished astronomers, whose work has advanced rapid­ly along­side the growth of the pho­to­graph­ic medi­um. It was an astronomer, in fact – Johann Hein­rich von Madler – who first coined the word “pho­tog­ra­phy” in 1839. “Astronomers quick­ly embraced the use of pho­to­graph­ic plates because of their good res­o­lu­tion and the abil­i­ty to make much larg­er images,” APS Physics News notes.

Astropho­tog­ra­phy prop­er­ly began in 1840, when John William Drap­er, a British-born chemist and doc­tor, took the image above from the roof of the New York Uni­ver­si­ty obser­va­to­ry, cred­it­ed as the first daguerreo­type of the Moon. Daguerre him­self might have tak­en an 1839 image, but it was like­ly destroyed in a fire, as were Draper’s attempts of the pre­vi­ous year, which burned up in a NYU blaze in 1865.

By all accounts, how­ev­er, these ear­li­er attempts at Moon pho­tog­ra­phy were blur­ry and unfo­cused, show­ing lit­tle detail of the Earth’s satel­lite. Draper’s lunar “por­trait,” from 1840, at the top, is large­ly con­sid­ered “the world’s first true astropho­to,” writes Jason Major at Lights in the Dark, for its lev­els of detail and high con­trast, com­par­a­tive­ly speak­ing. As Scott Walk­er writes:

Drap­er set out to try and improve on Daguerre’s break­through by increas­ing plate sen­si­tiv­i­ty and reduc­ing expo­sure times.… His advance­ment in the tech­nique allowed visu­al­iza­tion of craters, moun­tains and val­leys on the moon’s sur­face which pre­vi­ous­ly couldn’t be cap­tured.

Splotched, spot­ted, and heav­i­ly degrad­ed, the image may not look like much now, but a con­tem­po­rary of Drap­er described it then as “the first time that any­thing like a dis­tinct rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the moon’s sur­face has been obtained.”

The achieve­ment was inspi­ra­tional, and many bet­ter attempts soon fol­lowed in rapid suc­ces­sion as the medi­um evolved. In 1851, pho­tog­ra­ph­er John Whip­ple and father-and-son astronomers William and George Bond improved on Drap­er’s process and made the Moon daguerreo­type fur­ther up through the Great Refrac­tor Equa­to­r­i­al Mount Tele­scope at the Har­vard Col­lege Obser­va­to­ry. (The year pre­vi­ous, Drap­er him­self col­lab­o­rat­ed with Bond père to make an image of the star Vega). The image caused a “ver­i­ta­ble furor,” Smart His­to­ry notes, at the Great Exhi­bi­tion of 1851.

Between 1857 and 1862, astropho­tog­ra­ph­er and ama­teur astronomer War­ren De La Rue made a series of stereo­scop­ic Moon images (lov­ing­ly pre­served online by astro­physi­cist and Queen gui­tarist Bri­an May), one of which you can see fur­ther up. De La Rue had seen Whip­ple’s daguerreo­type at the Great Exhi­bi­tion and began inno­vat­ing his own process for cre­at­ing stereo­scop­ic astropho­tographs. At the same time, Drap­er’s son, Hen­ry, “an accom­plished astropho­tog­ra­ph­er and one of the most famous Amer­i­can astronomers of his day,” Kiona Smith writes at Forbes, had tak­en over his father’s Moon pho­tog­ra­phy project. See an 1863 image tak­en by the younger Drap­er just above.

“Before the inven­tion of pho­tog­ra­phy,” notes APS News, “astronomers had to sketch what they saw in their tele­scopes by hand, often miss­ing cru­cial details.” Daguerre and Drap­er’s inno­va­tions, and those that came soon after­ward, “showed them a far supe­ri­or method was pos­si­ble.” It is aston­ish­ing that these results could be achieved only a few decades after the first pho­to­graph, tak­en in 1826 by Nicéphore Niépce. It is maybe even more aston­ish­ing that only a cen­tu­ry and a half  or so lat­er — a mean­ing­less drop in the cos­mic timescale — astropho­tog­ra­phy would look beyond the moon to the very ori­gins of the uni­verse itself.

via Smart His­to­ry

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

The First Pho­to­graph Ever Tak­en (1826)

Watch the Orig­i­nal TV Cov­er­age of the His­toric Apol­lo 11 Moon Land­ing: Record­ed on July 20, 1969

The Full Rota­tion of the Moon: A Beau­ti­ful, High Res­o­lu­tion Time Lapse Film

The First Pho­tographs Tak­en by the Webb Tele­scope: See Far­away Galax­ies & Neb­u­lae in Unprece­dent­ed Detail

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

The First Photographs Taken by the Webb Telescope: See Faraway Galaxies & Nebulae in Unprecedented Detail

Late last year we fea­tured the amaz­ing engi­neer­ing of the James Webb Space Tele­scope, which is now the largest opti­cal tele­scope in space. Capa­ble of reg­is­ter­ing phe­nom­e­na old­er, more dis­tant, and fur­ther off the vis­i­ble spec­trum than any pre­vi­ous device, it will no doubt show us a great many things we’ve nev­er seen before. In fact, it’s already begun: ear­li­er this week, NASA’s God­dard Space Flight Cen­ter released the first pho­tographs tak­en through the Webb tele­scope, which “rep­re­sent the first wave of full-col­or sci­en­tif­ic images and spec­tra the obser­va­to­ry has gath­ered, and the offi­cial begin­ning of Webb’s gen­er­al sci­ence oper­a­tions.”

The areas of out­er space depict­ed in unprece­dent­ed detail by these pho­tos include the Cari­na Neb­u­la (top), the South­ern Ring Neb­u­la (2nd image on this page), and the galaxy clus­ters known as Stephan’s Quin­tet (the home of the angels in It’s a Won­der­ful Life) and SMACS 0723 (bot­tom).

That last, notes Petapix­el’s Jaron Schnei­der, “is the high­est res­o­lu­tion pho­to of deep space that has ever been tak­en,” and the light it cap­tures “has trav­eled for more than 13 bil­lion years.” What this com­pos­ite image shows us, as NASA explains, is SMACS 0723 “as it appeared 4.6 bil­lion years ago” — and its “slice of the vast uni­verse cov­ers a patch of sky approx­i­mate­ly the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length by some­one on the ground.”

All this can be a bit dif­fi­cult to get one’s head around, at least if one is pro­fes­sion­al­ly involved with nei­ther astron­o­my nor cos­mol­o­gy. But few imag­i­na­tions could go un-cap­tured by the rich­ness of the images them­selves. Sharp, rich in col­or, var­ied in tex­ture — and in the case of the Cari­na Neb­u­la or “Cos­mic Cliffs,” NASA adds, “seem­ing­ly three-dimen­sion­al” — they could have come straight from a state-of-the-art sci­ence-fic­tion movie. In fact they out­do even the most advanced sci-fi visions, as NASA’s Earth­rise out­did even the uncan­ni­ly real­is­tic-in-ret­ro­spect views of the Earth from space imag­ined by Stan­ley Kubrick and his col­lab­o­ra­tors in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

But these pho­tos are the fruits of a real-life jour­ney toward the final fron­tier, one you can fol­low in real time on NASA’s “Where Is Webb?” track­er. “Webb was designed to spend the next decade in space,” writes Colos­sal’s Grace Ebert. “How­ev­er, a suc­cess­ful launch pre­served sub­stan­tial fuel, and NASA now antic­i­pates a trove of insights about the uni­verse for the next twen­ty years.” That’s quite a long run by the cur­rent stan­dards of space explo­ration — but then, by the scale of space and time the Webb tele­scope has new­ly opened up, even 100 mil­len­nia is the blink of an eye.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Amaz­ing Engi­neer­ing of James Webb Tele­scope

How to Take a Pic­ture of a Black Hole: Watch the 2017 Ted Talk by Katie Bouman, the MIT Grad Stu­dent Who Helped Take the Ground­break­ing Pho­to

How Sci­en­tists Col­orize Those Beau­ti­ful Space Pho­tos Tak­en By the Hub­ble Space Tele­scope

The Very First Pic­ture of the Far Side of the Moon, Tak­en 60 Years Ago

The First Images and Video Footage from Out­er Space, 1946–1959

The Beau­ty of Space Pho­tog­ra­phy

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

How to Decode NASA’s Message to Aliens

When NASA spent close to a bil­lion dol­lars on the Voy­ager pro­gram, launch­ing a pair of probes from Cape Canaver­al in 1977, its pri­ma­ry pur­pose was not to find intel­li­gent extra-ter­res­tri­al life. The pro­gram grew out of ambi­tions for a “Grand Tour”: four robot­ic probes that would vis­it all the plan­ets in the out­er solar sys­tem, tak­ing advan­tage of a 175-year align­ment of Jupiter and Sat­urn. A down­sized ver­sion pro­duced Voy­ager 1 and 2, each craft “a minia­ture mar­vel,” writes the Attic. “Weigh­ing less than a Volk­swa­gen, each had 65,000 parts. Six thrusters pow­ered by plu­to­ni­um. Three gyro­scopes. Assort­ed instru­ments to mea­sure grav­i­ty, radi­a­tion, mag­net­ic fields, and more. Design and assem­bly took years.”

Since reach­ing Jupiter in 1979, the two probes have sent back aston­ish­ing images from the great gas giants and the very edges of the solar sys­tem. “By 2030, Voy­ager 1 and 2 will cease com­mu­ni­ca­tions for good,” says Cory Zap­at­ka in the Verge Sci­ence video above, “and while they won’t be able to beam infor­ma­tion back to Earth, they’re going to con­tin­ue sail­ing through space at almost 60,000 kilo­me­ters per hour,” reach­ing inter­stel­lar unknowns their mak­ers will nev­er see. Voy­ager 1 was only sup­posed to last 10 years. In 2012, it left the solar sys­tem, to drift, along with its twin, “end­less­ly among the stars of our galaxy,” Tim­o­thy Fer­ris writes in The New York­er, “unless some­one or some­thing encoun­ters them some­day.”

As deep space detri­tus, the probes will make excel­lent car­ri­ers for an inter­stel­lar mes­sage in a bot­tle, the Voy­ager team rea­soned. The idea prompt­ed the cre­ation of the Gold­en Record, an LP fit­ted to each probe con­tain­ing a mes­sage from human­i­ty to the cos­mos. “Etched in cop­per, plat­ed with gold, and sealed in alu­minum cas­es, the records are expect­ed to remain intel­li­gi­ble for more than a bil­lion years, mak­ing them the longest-last­ing objects ever craft­ed by human hands.” Pro­duced by Fer­ris and over­seen by Carl Sagan and a team includ­ing his future wife, Ann Druyan, the Gold­en Record includes the work of Mozart, Chuck Berry, folk music from around the world, the sounds of waves and whales, and one of the most uni­ver­sal of human sounds, laugh­ter (like­ly that of Sagan him­self).

The Gold­en Record also includes 115 images, etched into its very sur­face. No, they are not dig­i­tal files. “There are no jpegs or tifs includ­ed on it,” says Zap­at­ka. After all, “The Voyager’s com­put­er sys­tems were only 69 kilo­bytes large, bare­ly enough for one image, let alone 115.” These are ana­log still pho­tographs and dia­grams that must be recon­struct­ed with math­e­mat­i­cal for­mu­lae extract­ed from elec­tron­ic tones. The process starts with the dia­grams on the record’s cov­er — sim­ple icons that con­tain an incred­i­ble den­si­ty of infor­ma­tion. We begin with two cir­cles joined by a line. They are hydro­gen atoms, the most plen­ti­ful gas in the uni­verse, under­go­ing a change that occurs spon­ta­neous­ly once every 10 mil­lion years.

Dur­ing this rare occur­rence, the hydro­gen atoms emit ener­gy at wave­lengths of 21 cen­time­ters. This mea­sure­ment is used as “a con­stant for all the oth­er sym­bols on the record.” That’s an awful lot of back­ground knowl­edge required to deci­pher what look to the sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly untrained eye like a pair of tiny eyes behind a pair of odd eye­glass­es. But for space­far­ing aliens, “how hard could that be?” says Bill Nye above in an abridged descrip­tion of how to decode the Gold­en Record. We may nev­er, in a bil­lion years, know if any extra-ter­res­tri­al species ever finds the record and makes the attempt. But the Gold­en Record has become as much an object of fas­ci­na­tion for humans as it is a greet­ing from Earth to the galaxy. Learn more from NASA here about the images encod­ed on the Gold­en Record and order your own repro­duc­tion (on LP or CD) here.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Carl Sagan Sent Music & Pho­tos Into Space So That Aliens Could Under­stand Human Civ­i­liza­tion (Even After We’re Gone)

NASA Lets You Down­load Free Posters Cel­e­brat­ing the 40th Anniver­sary of the Voy­ager Mis­sions

Carl Sagan Warns Con­gress about Cli­mate Change (1985)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Charles and Ray Eames’ Powers of Ten Updated to Reflect Our Modern Understanding of the Universe

We’ve expe­ri­enced some mind­blow­ing tech­no­log­i­cal advances in the years fol­low­ing design­ers Charles and Ray Eames’ 1977 film Pow­ers of Ten: A Film Deal­ing with the Rel­a­tive Size of Things in the Uni­verse and the Effect of Adding Anoth­er Zero.




And y’know, all sorts of inno­v­a­tive strides in the fields of med­i­cinecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, and envi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­i­ty.

In the above video for the BBC, par­ti­cle physi­cist Bri­an Cox pays trib­ute to the Eames’ cel­e­brat­ed eight-and-a-half-minute doc­u­men­tary short, and uses the dis­cov­er­ies of the last four-and-a-half decades to kick the can a bit fur­ther down the road.

The orig­i­nal film helped ordi­nary view­ers get a han­dle on the universe’s out­er edges by tele­scop­ing up and out from a one-meter view of a pic­nic blan­ket in a Chica­go park at the rate of one pow­er of ten every 10 sec­onds.

Start with some­thing every­body can under­stand, right?

At 100 (102) meters — slight­ly less than the total length of an Amer­i­can foot­ball field, the pic­nick­ers become part of the urban land­scape, shar­ing their space with cars, boats at anchor in Lake Michi­gan, and a shock­ing dearth of fel­low pic­nick­ers.

One more pow­er of 10 and the pick­nick­ers dis­ap­pear from view, eclipsed by Sol­dier Field, the Shedd Aquar­i­um, the Field Muse­um and oth­er long­stand­ing down­town Chica­go insti­tu­tions.

At 1024 meters — 100 mil­lion light years away from the start­ing pic­nic blan­ket, the Eames butted up against the lim­its of the observ­able uni­verse, at least as far as 1977 was con­cerned.

They reversed direc­tion, hurtling back down to earth by one pow­er of ten every two sec­onds. With­out paus­ing for so much as hand­ful of fruit or a slice of pie, they dove beneath the skin of a doz­ing picnicker’s hand, con­tin­u­ing their jour­ney on a cel­lu­lar, then sub-atom­ic lev­el, end­ing inside a pro­ton of a car­bon atom with­in a DNA mol­e­cule in a white blood cell.

It still man­ages to put the mind in a whirl.

Sit tight, though, because, as Pro­fes­sor Cox points out, “Over 40 years lat­er, we can show a bit more.”

2021 relo­cates the pic­nic blan­ket to a pic­turesque beach in Sici­ly, and for­goes the trip inside the human body in favor of Deep Space, though the method of trav­el remains the same — expo­nen­tial, by pow­ers of ten.

1013 meters finds us head­ing into inter­stel­lar space, on the heels of Voy­agers 1 and 2, the twin space­crafts launched the same year as the Eames’ Pow­ers of Ten — 1977.

Hav­ing achieved their ini­tial objec­tive, the explo­ration of Jupiter and Sat­urn, these space­crafts’ mis­sion was expand­ed to Uranus, Nep­tune, and now, the out­er­most edge of the Sun’s domain. The data they, and oth­er explorato­ry crafts, have sent back allow Cox and oth­ers in the  sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty to take us beyond the Eames’ out­er­most lim­its:

At 1026 meters, we switch our view to microwave. We can now see the cur­rent lim­it of our vision. This light forms a wall all around us. The light and dark patch­es show dif­fer­ences in tem­per­a­ture by frac­tions of a degree, reveal­ing where mat­ter was begin­ning to clump togeth­er to form the first galax­ies short­ly after the Big Bang. This light is known as the cos­mic microwave back­ground radi­a­tion. 

1027 meters…1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. Beyond this point, the nature of the Uni­verse is tru­ly unchart­ed and debat­ed. This light was emit­ted around 380,000 years after the Big Bang. Before this time, the Uni­verse was so hot that it was not trans­par­ent to light. Is there sim­ply more uni­verse out there, yet to be revealed? Or is this region still expand­ing, gen­er­at­ing more uni­verse, or even oth­er uni­vers­es with dif­fer­ent phys­i­cal prop­er­ties to our own? How will our under­stand­ing of the Uni­verse have changed by 2077? How many more pow­ers of ten are out there?

Accord­ing to NASA, the Voy­ager crafts have suf­fi­cient pow­er and fuel to keep their “cur­rent suite of sci­ence instru­ments on” for anoth­er four years, at least. By then, Voy­ager 1 will be about 13.8 bil­lion miles, and Voy­ager 2 some 11.4 bil­lion miles from the Sun:

In about 40,000 years, Voy­ager 1 will drift with­in 1.6 light-years (9.3 tril­lion miles) of AC+79 3888, a star in the con­stel­la­tion of Camelopardalis which is head­ing toward the con­stel­la­tion Ophi­uchus. In about 40,000 years, Voy­ager 2 will pass 1.7 light-years (9.7 tril­lion miles) from the star Ross 248 and in about 296,000 years, it will pass 4.3 light-years (25 tril­lion miles) from Sir­ius, the bright­est star in the sky. The Voy­agers are destined—perhaps eternally—to wan­der the Milky Way.

If this dizzy­ing infor­ma­tion makes you yearn for 1987’s sim­ple plea­sures, this Way­back Machine link includes a fun inter­ac­tive for the orig­i­nal Pow­ers of Ten. Click the “show text” option on an expo­nen­tial slid­er tool to con­sid­er the scale of each stop in his­toric and tan­gi­ble con­text.

via Aeon

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Carl Sagan’s “The Pale Blue Dot” Ani­mat­ed

Watch Pow­ers of Ten and Let Design­ers Charles & Ray Eames Take You on a Bril­liant Tour of the Uni­verse

Watch Oscar-Nom­i­nat­ed Doc­u­men­tary Uni­verse, the Film that Inspired the Visu­al Effects of Stan­ley Kubrick’s 2001 and Gave the HAL 9000 Com­put­er Its Voice (1960)

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

The Amazing Engineering of James Webb Telescope

If you want to see the cur­rent height of tech­nol­o­gy, you could do worse than tak­ing a look at the James Webb Space Tele­scope. Mil­lions have been doing just that over the past few weeks, giv­en that this past Christ­mas Day wit­nessed the launch of that ten-bil­lion-dol­lar NASA project a decade in the mak­ing. As the suc­ces­sor to the now-ven­er­a­ble Hub­ble Space Tele­scope, the JWST is designed to go much far­ther into out­er space and thus see much fur­ther back in time, poten­tial­ly to the for­ma­tion of the first galax­ies. If all goes well, it will give us what the Real Engi­neer­ing video above calls a glimpse of the “ear­ly uni­verse from which we and every­thing we know was born.”

But one does not sim­ply glance sky­ward to see back 13.5 bil­lion years. No, “the com­bi­na­tion of tech­nolo­gies required to make the James Webb tele­scope pos­si­ble are unique to this time peri­od in human his­to­ry.” These include the heat shield that will unfold to pro­tect its sen­si­tive com­po­nents from the heat of the sun, to the onboard cry­ocool­er that main­tains the mid-infrared detec­tion instru­ment (which itself will enable the view­ing of many more stars and galax­ies than pre­vi­ous tele­scopes) at a cool sev­en degrees Kelvin, to the array of gold-coat­ed beryl­li­um mir­rors that can pick up unprece­dent­ed amounts of light.

How­ev­er com­pli­cat­ed the JWST’s devel­op­ment and launch, “the tru­ly nerve-wrack­ing process begins on day sev­en,” says the Real Engi­neer­ing video’s nar­ra­tor. At that point, with the satel­lite find­ing its pre­cise­ly deter­mined posi­tion 1.5 mil­lion kilo­me­ters from Earth, the heat shield begins unfold­ing, and “there are over 300 sin­gle points of fail­ure in this unfold­ing sequence: 300 chances for a ten bil­lion-dol­lar, 25-year project to end.” With that process under­way as of this writ­ing, the teeth of the pro­jec­t’s engi­neers are no doubt firm­ly embed­ded in their nails.

As it plays out, also-ner­vous fans of space explo­ration (who’ve had much to get excit­ed about in recent years) might con­sid­er dis­tract­ing them­selves with the above episode of Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s StarTalk. In it Tyson has in-depth dis­cus­sions about the JWST’s con­cep­tion, pur­pose, and poten­tial with both NASA astronomer Natal­ie Batal­ha and film­mak­er Nathaniel Kahn, whose doc­u­men­tary The Hunt for Plan­et B exam­ines the JWST team’s “quest to find anoth­er Earth among the stars.” But let’s not get ahead of our­selves: even if the shield deploys with­out a hitch, there remains the not-untricky process of unfold­ing those mir­rors. What we see through the tele­scope will no doubt change our ideas about human­i­ty’s place in the uni­verse — but if it func­tions as planned, we’ll have good rea­son to be pleased with human com­pe­tence.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Beau­ty of Space Pho­tog­ra­phy

Free Inter­ac­tive e‑Books from NASA Reveal His­to­ry, Dis­cov­er­ies of the Hub­ble & Webb Tele­scopes

How Sci­en­tists Col­orize Those Beau­ti­ful Space Pho­tos Tak­en By the Hub­ble Space Tele­scope

Van Gogh’s ‘Star­ry Night’ Re-Cre­at­ed by Astronomer with 100 Hub­ble Space Tele­scope Images

NASA Enlists Andy Warhol, Annie Lei­bovitz, Nor­man Rock­well & 350 Oth­er Artists to Visu­al­ly Doc­u­ment America’s Space Pro­gram

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

The Brilliant 19th-Century Astronomical Drawings of Étienne Léopold Trouvelot

The first pho­to of the moon was tak­en in 1850 by Louis Daguerre, from whom the daguer­rotype gets its name. We have no idea what that first image looked like as it was lost in a stu­dio fire. But the need to cat­a­log the heav­ens with mod­ern tools had start­ed, and was both fas­ci­nat­ing as it was lack­ing. Into this evo­lu­tion of sci­ence and art stepped Éti­enne Léopold Trou­velot, the French immi­grant, liv­ing in the States, an ama­teur sci­en­tist and an illus­tra­tor. He would dis­miss pho­tog­ra­phy of the heav­ens as “so blurred and indis­tinct that no details of any great val­ue can be secured.” And by illus­trat­ing instead by he saw through tele­scopes, he secured a place in art *and* sci­ence his­to­ry.

Trou­velot might have thought his sci­en­tif­ic papers would be his lega­cy. He wrote fifty in his life­time. Instead it is his rough­ly 7,000 illus­tra­tions of plan­ets, comets, and oth­er phe­nom­e­na that still please us to this day. The New York Pub­lic Library has put 15 of his best up on their site, and over at this page, you can com­pare what Trou­velot saw—-the great astronomer Emma Con­verse called Trou­velot the “prince of observers”—-to pho­tos from NASA’s archive.

Even if his Mars is a bit fan­ci­ful, look­ing translu­cent like a fish egg, his under­stand­ing of the plan­et echoes in the fol­low­ing cen­tu­ry of sci-fi para­noia. Some­thing strange must be there, he sug­gests.

Har­vard hired him to sketch at their college’s obser­va­to­ry, and he used pas­tels to bring the plan­ets to life. Engrav­ing or ink would not have worked as well as these soft shapes and deter­mined lines. His ren­der­ing of the moon sur­face is accu­rate but also fan­ci­ful, like whipped cream. And his sun spots might not be accu­rate, but they repli­cat­ed the god-like forces at work on its tumul­tuous sur­face. His Sat­urn is the most real­is­tic of them all. Even the NASA image doesn’t look too dif­fer­ent to Trouvelot’s art.

These images also help reha­bil­i­tate Trouvelot’s oth­er legacy—-the dread­ed Gyp­sy Moth. Before his stint as ama­teur sci­en­tist, he was also an ama­teur ento­mol­o­gist, and while research­ing silk­worms and silk pro­duc­tion, acci­den­tal­ly let Euro­pean gyp­sy moths into North Amer­i­ca, where they wreaked hav­oc on the forests of North Amer­i­ca. Saturn’s rings may look the same back then as they do now, but so does the dam­age of the gyp­sy moth, which accord­ing to Wikipedia is up to $868 mil­lion in dam­ages per year.

via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A 9th Cen­tu­ry Man­u­script Teach­es Astron­o­my by Mak­ing Sub­lime Pic­tures Out of Words

Joce­lyn Bell Bur­nell Changed Astron­o­my For­ev­er; Her Ph.D. Advi­sor Won the Nobel Prize for It

A 16th-Cen­tu­ry Astron­o­my Book Fea­tured “Ana­log Com­put­ers” to Cal­cu­late the Shape of the Moon, the Posi­tion of the Sun, and More

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the Notes from the Shed pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.