While exoplanets make the news on an almost daily basis, one of the biggest announcements occurred in 2012 when astronomers claimed the discovery of an Earth-like planet circling our nearest neighbor, Alpha Centauri B, a mere 4.3 light-years away. That’s almost close enough to touch.
Just a quick rundown of what I’ve been working on over at BritBitGames. The game is slowly taking shape and has had a bit of a graphical update over the last two weeks. I’ve also been busy working with the other guys on adding some puzzle aspects to the game play.
Anyone interested in reading the full update can check it out on our IndieDB page here
I really don’t know whether I should use this blog to promote the video game I’m working on or not. Ideally I’d like to keep the two separate, at least until I make a space based game, but this is where my biggest audience is at the moment.
So far I’ve mostly resisted the temptation and kept most of the news confined to the the game dev’s twitter account and the IndieDB page, but as I’m getting more and more involved in the development I find I’m doing less and less with this blog.
It has been fun doing the astronomy and I’ve met some really interesting people, some famous some not, but in recent months I’ve found that it’s not consuming me as much as it used to. Some of you who’ve read the blog for a while will have noticed that my posting quota has dropped quite dramatically since around the beginning of autumn last year.
I really don’t want to let it get to the point where the blog is completely neglected. Perhaps I should turn it into more of a personal blog where I post about things that interest me and what I’m doing, in this case games and astronomy, rather than keeping it locked doggedly to one subject.
As some of you may remember I recently set myself up as an independent video game developer. I have been endeavouring to keep the gaming posts away from this blog as much as possible as this blog is used for my astronomy based posts, but since this is where my largest audience is, and self promotion is important when you’re a small company, I don’t see any harm in a quick update on what I’ve been working on. Plus, I will be honest that I’ve not been posting as much astro stuff as I should, so it makes sense to utilise the blog for something.
The game I’m currently developing, along with a friend, is called Blokker. It’s a 2d ‘paddle and ball’ style game based on the likes of Breakout and Arkanoid. It’s still very early in it’s development, as we’ve only been working on it for month or so, but it is working well enough to show off some images, the latest news and a quick video.
There is still an absolute ton of stuff to do with it. For example I’d like to take the time at a later date to replace the current graphics designs with something nicer looking. The game also requires more levels (we currently only have two), enemies, features and we’d like to add a 2d vertical scrolling shoot-em-up mini-game.
In this new Hubble image two objects are clearly visible, shining brightly. When they were first discovered in 1979, they were thought to be separate objects — however, astronomers soon realised that these twins are a little too identical! They are close together, lie at the same distance from us, and have surprisingly similar properties. The reason they are so similar is not some bizarre coincidence; they are in fact the same object.
These cosmic doppelgangers make up a double quasar known as QSO 0957+561, also known as the “Twin Quasar”, which lies just under 14 billion light-years from Earth. Quasars are the intensely powerful centres of distant galaxies. So, why are we seeing this quasar twice?
Some 4 billion light-years from Earth — and directly in our line of sight — is the huge galaxy YGKOW G1. This galaxy was the first ever observed gravitational lens, an object with a mass so great that it can bend the light from objects lying behind it. This phenomenon not only allows us to see objects that would otherwise be too remote, in cases like this it also allows us to see them twice over.
Along with the cluster of galaxies in which it resides, YGKOW G1 exerts an enormous gravitational force. This doesn’t just affect the galaxy’s shape, the stars that it forms, and the objects around it — it affects the very space it sits in, warping and bending the environment and producing bizarre effects, such as this quasar double image.
This observation of gravitational lensing, the first of its kind, meant more than just the discovery of an impressive optical illusion allowing telescopes like Hubble to effectively see behind an intervening galaxy. It was evidence for Einstein’s theory of general relativity. This theory had identified gravitational lensing as one of its only observable effects, but until this observation no such lensing had been observed since the idea was first mooted in 1936.
The 1st of March 1780 was a particularly productive night for Charles Messier. Combing the constellation of Leo for additions to his grand astronomical catalogue, he struck on not one, but two, new objects.
One of those objects is seen here: Messier 65. "Nebula discovered in Leo: It is very faint and contains no star," he jotted down in his notebook. But he was wrong — as we now know, Messier 65 is a spiral galaxy containing billions upon billions of stars.
All Messier saw was a faint diffuse light, nothing like the fine detail here, so we can forgive his mistake. If he had had access to a telescope like Hubble, he could have spied these stunning, tightly wound purple spiral arms and dark dust lanes, encircling a bright centre crammed with stars.
Almost exactly 233 years later in March of this year, one of the stars within Messier 65 went supernova (not seen in this image), rivalling the rest of the entire galaxy in brightness. This, the first Messier supernova of 2013, is now fading, and the serene beauty of M65 is returning.
Sorry I’ve not been around updating this blog so much. I had a minor falling out with astronomy due to a project I was involved with that went belly up. It was nobody’s fault, it’s just that none of the people involved, myself included, really knew what we were doing and it failed. As a result my confidence in all things astro took a bit of a knock and I’ve been keeping a low profile.
As those who read this blog regularly might know I have been quite busy recently with my new project BritBit Games, an independent video game development studio, and as a result of this I did think about killing this blog off. But I’ve decided to keep it going.
I will continue to post astro videos, images and news, and the focus of this blog will be mostly that, but I’m also going to be posting occasional items from the BritBit blog, just videos and images, to show off what we’re working on over there. The main reason for this is because this blog has a much larger number of followers, and it makes sense to show off your work in the place where it’ll be seen by more people.
The BritBit Games idea came about because I used to be a games developer (back in the dark days of the Empire… ahem… I mean 8-Bit computers). Well, more accurately, I was a “Pixel Pusher”, a rather derogatory term for a person who designed graphics, or sprites, for games. I enjoyed doing it, but other jobs and commitments pulled me away from games.
As you can imagine, things have moved on somewhat since I was involved with making games. Games have gone 3D, the machines are more powerful, production values are higher and the programming languages have changed (I started out making games in BASIC on a C64 using machine code). As a result of this I’m starting out by creating simple 8 and 16-bit style games with a view to moving onto more advanced games later on, by engaging in a lot of studying and learning, to teach myself new things like working with 3D engines, brushing up on my drawing and design (which has become a bit rusty due to lack of use) and learning new programming and scripting languages. It helps that I’m working on the project with some people who know a lot more about these things that I currently do. (I think my grammar failed me somewhat in that last paragraph. Apologies! :P)
As I mentioned on the BritBit blog we will be releasing games, but the first ones are likely to be very simple demo’s that we’ll release for free through IndieDB. The main purpose of these early demo’s will be to hone our creative skills through small projects with the aim of turning one of them into a bigger project somewhere down the line.
Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I’d like to thank everyone who continued to follow this blog during the quiet times, and I wish you all a Happy New year! Normal service is now resumed!
Lying over 110 million light-years away from Earth in the constellation of Antlia (The Air Pump) is the spiral galaxy IC 2560, shown here in an image from NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. At this distance it is a relatively nearby spiral galaxy, and is part of the Antlia cluster — a group of over 200 galaxies held together by gravity. This cluster is unusual; unlike most other galaxy clusters, it appears to have no dominant galaxy within it.
In this image, it is easy to spot IC 2560’s spiral arms and barred structure. This spiral is what astronomers call a Seyfert-2 galaxy, a kind of spiral galaxy characterised by an extremely bright nucleus and very strong emission lines from certain elements — hydrogen, helium, nitrogen, and oxygen. The bright centre of the galaxy is thought to be caused by the ejection of huge amounts of super-hot gas from the region around a central black hole.
There is a story behind the naming of this quirky constellation — Antlia was originally named antlia pneumatica by French astronomer Abbé Nicolas Louis de Lacaille, in honour of the invention of the air pump in the 17th century.
This image, captured by ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) at Paranal, shows a small part of the well-known emission nebula, NGC 6357, located some 8000 light-years away, in the tail of the southern constellation of Scorpius (The Scorpion). The image glows with the characteristic red of an H II region, and contains a large amount of ionised and excited hydrogen gas.
The cloud is bathed in intense ultraviolet radiation — mainly from the open star cluster Pismis 24, home to some massive, young, blue stars — which it re-emits as visible light, in this distinctive red hue.
The cluster itself is out of the field of view of this picture, its diffuse light seen illuminating the cloud on the centre-right of the image. We are looking at a close-up of the surrounding nebula, showing a mesh of gas, dark dust, and newly born and still forming stars.
The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured this image of PGC 10922, an example of a lenticular galaxy — a galaxy type that lies on the border between ellipticals and spirals.
Seen face-on, the image shows the disc and tightly-wound spiral structures of dark dust encircling the bright centre of the galaxy. There is also a remarkable outer halo of faint wide arcs or shells extending outwards, covering much of the picture. These are likely to have been formed by a gravitational encounter or even a merger with another galaxy. Some dust also appears to have escaped from the central structure and has spread out across the inner shells.
An extraordinarily rich background of more remote galaxies can also be seen in the image.
A version of this image was entered into the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures image processing competition by contestant Judy Schmidt.
At first glance, this Hubble picture appears to capture two space colossi entangled in a fierce celestial battle, with two galaxies entwined and merging to form one. But this shows just how easy it is to misinterpret the jumble of sparkling stars and get the wrong impression — as it’s all down to a trick of perspective.
By chance, these galaxies appear to be aligned from our point of view. In the foreground, the irregular dwarf galaxy PGC 16389 — seen here as a cloud of stars — covers its neighbouring galaxy APMBGC 252+125-117, which appears edge-on as a streak. This wide-field image also captures many other more distant galaxies, including a quite prominent face-on spiral towards the right of the picture.
A version of this image was entered into the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures image processing competition by contestant Luca Limatola.
A piercingly bright curtain of stars is the backdrop for this beautiful image taken by astronomer Håkon Dahle. The silhouetted figure in the foreground is Håkon himself surrounded by just a couple of the great dark domes that litter the mountain of ESO’s La Silla Observatory.
Many professional astronomers are also keen photographers — and who could blame them? ESO sites in the Atacama Desert are among the best places on Earth for observing the stars, and for the same reason, are amazing places for photographing the night sky.
Håkon took these photos while on a week-long observing run at the MPG/ESO 2.2 -telescope. During this time, the telescope was occasionally handed over to a different observing team, giving Håkon the opportunity to admire the starry night — as well as to capture it for the rest of us to see.
The Milky Way is brighter in the Southern Hemisphere than in the North, because of the way our planet’s southern regions point towards the dense galactic centre. But even in the South, the Milky Way in the night sky is quite faint in the sky. For most of us, light pollution from our cities and even the Moon can outshine the faint glow of the galaxy, hiding it from view.
One of the best aspects of La Silla Observatory is that it is far away from bright city lights, giving it some of the darkest night skies on Earth. The atmosphere is also very clear, so there is no haze to further muddy your vision. The skies at La Silla are so dark that it is possible to see a shadow cast by the light of the Milky Way alone.
Håkon submitted this photograph to the Your ESO Pictures Flickr group. The Flickr group is regularly reviewed and the best photos are selected to be featured in our popular Picture of the Week series, or in our gallery.
This beautiful image portrays the galaxies NGC 799 (below) and NGC 800 (above) located in the constellation of Cetus (The Whale). This pair of galaxies was first observed by the American astronomer Lewis Swift back in 1885.
Located at a distance of about 300 million light-years, our face-on view allows us to clearly appreciate their shapes. Like the Milky Way — our galaxy — these objects are both spiral galaxies, with characteristic long arms winding towards a bright bulge at the centre. In the prominent spiral arms, a large number of hot, young, blue stars are forming in clusters (tiny blue dots seen in the image) whereas in the central bulge a large group of cooler, redder, old stars are packed into a compact, almost spherical region.
At first glance, these galaxies look rather similar, but the devil is in the detail. Apart from the obvious difference in size, only NGC 799 has a bar structure, extending from its central bulge, and the spiral arms wind out from the ends of the bar. Galactic bars are thought to act as a mechanism that channels gas from the spiral arms to the centre, intensifying star formation. A supernova was also observed in NGC 799 in 2004, and was given the name SN2004dt.
Another interesting differentiating feature is the number of spiral arms. The small NGC 800 has three bright, knotty spiral arms, whilst NGC 799 only has two relatively dim, but broad spiral arms. These start at the end of the bar and wrap nearly completely around the galaxy forming a structure that looks almost like a ring.
While it might seem that this image depicts two impressive close spiral galaxies coexisting in an everlasting peace, nothing can be further than the truth. We could be just witnessing the calm before the storm. We don’t know exactly what the future will bring, but typically, when two galaxies are close enough, they interact over hundreds of millions of years by means of gravitational disturbances. In some cases, only minor interactions occur, causing shape distortions, but sometimes galaxies collide, merging to form a single, new and larger galaxy.
The image was obtained using the FORS1 instrument on the 8.2-metre ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT) atop Cerro Paranal, Chile. It combines exposures taken through three filters (B, V, R).
Five asteroids can also be seen — can you find them all? The asteroids moved between the different exposures leaving colourful streaks in the image.
Astronomical pictures sometimes deceive us with tricks of perspective. Right in the centre of this image, two spiral galaxies appear to be suffering a spectacular collision, with a host of stars appearing to flee the scene of the crash in a chaotic stampede.
However, this is just a trick of perspective. It is true that two spiral galaxies are colliding, but they are millions of light-years away, far beyond the cloud of blue and red stars near the merging spiral. This sprinkling of stars is actually an isolated, irregular dwarf galaxy named ESO 489-056. The dwarf galaxy is actually much more distant than many bright stars in the foreground of the image, which are located much closer to us, in the Milky Way.
ESO 489-056 is located 16 million light-years from Earth in the constellation of Canis Major (The Greater Dog), in our local Universe. It is composed of a few billion red and blue stars — a very small number when compared to galaxies like the Milky Way, which is estimated to contain around 200 to 400 billion stars, or the Andromeda Galaxy, which contains a mind-boggling one trillion.
A version of this image was entered into the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures image processing competition by contestant Luca Limatola.
Don’t be fooled by the title; the mysterious, almost mystical bright light emerging from these thick, ominous clouds is actually a telltale sign of star formation. Here, a very young star is being born in the guts of the dark cloud LDN 43 — a massive blob of gas, dust, and ices, gathered 520 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Ophiuchus (The Serpent Bearer).
Stars are born from cosmic dust and gas, which floats freely in space until gravity forces it to bind together. The hidden newborn star in this image, revealed only by light reflected onto the plumes of the dark cloud, is named RNO 91. It is what astronomers call a pre-main sequence star, meaning that it has not yet started burning hydrogen in its core.
The energy that allows RNO 91 to shine comes from gravitational contraction. The star is being compressed by its own weight until, at some point, a critical mass will be reached and hydrogen, its main component, will begin to fuse together, releasing huge amounts of energy in the process. This will mark the beginning of adulthood for the star. But even before this happens the adolescent star is bright enough to shine and generate powerful stellar winds, emitting intense X-ray and radio emission.
RNO 91 is a variable star around half the mass of the Sun. Astronomers have been able to observe the existence of a dusty, icy disc surrounding it, stretching out to over 1700 times the distance from Earth to the Sun. It is believed that this disc may host protoplanets — planets in the process of being formed — and will eventually evolve into a fully-fledged planetary system.
This image is based on data gathered by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. A version of this image was entered into the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures image processing competition by contestant Judy Schmidt.