In the winter of 1995, scientists pointed the Hubble Telescope at an area of the sky near the Big Dipper, a spot that was dark and out of the way of light pollution from surrounding stars. The location was apparently empty, and the whole endeavor was risky. What, if anything, was going to show up? Over ten consecutive days, the telescope took close to 150 hours of exposure of that same area. And what came back was nothing short of spectacular: an image of over 1,500 distinct galaxies glimmering in a tiny sliver of the universe.
Now, let’s take a step back to understand the scale of this image. If you were to take a ballpoint pen and hold it at arm’s length in front of the night sky, focusing on its very tip, that is what the Hubble Telescope captured in its first Deep Field image. In other words, those 3,000 galaxies were seen in just a tiny speck of the universe, approximately one two-millionth of the night sky.
So the next time you stand gazing up at the night sky, take a moment to think about the enormity of what is beyond your vision, out in the dark spaces between the stars.
Tonight, February 10, 2017* is a rare astronomic triple threat – at least if you’ve got a clear sky and live in certain parts of the world. There will be a full moon (the Snow Moon), a penumbral lunar eclipse, and a comet will be visible, too!
If you don’t want to wake in the wee hours overnight to see Comet 45P/Hondra-Mrkos-Pajdušáková, AKA the New Year Comet, we’ve gone ahead and added one to this plate from Smith’s Illustrated Astronomy(Cady & Burgess, 1849) by Asa Smith. We hear it’s supposed to be greenish.