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Surfing the Cosmos

There is a great article on viewing pictures of space in the July/August issue of the Atlantic — although I am disappointed that the author's edited pictures don't appear on the online version. (I trust that all the links in the captions are contain in the online text.)

One of author's Michael Benson points is that the web enables another way of astronomy. Instead of having to be in the right place in the right time to view all the currently observable wonders of the cosmos, we can treat our telescopes and satellites as proxies that deliver megabytes on megabytes to us, which we are free to traverse in any many we please. (Even if you only have a dialup connection from Slovenia, like he does.)


Once your computer is online, it's like having Awe In A Box. Above is a part of the Hubble Deep Field picture, a tiny speck of space that looks absolutely empty to the earthbound observers, even the best telescopes. And yet, this pinhole-sized span of the sky contains multitudes.

The faint beams of light from this tiny piece of space were painstakingly collected in 342 exposures over ten consecutive days. Cleaned up, processed, and digitally fused, these serial exposures finally came together to paint a picture not of an emptiness populated with a few feeble glowworm photons but of a spectral woven carpet of galaxies seemingly reaching on and out forever, deep into space and time. About 1,500 venerable pinwheels and other galactic forms careen through the Hubble's cosmic "core sample," so faint they're undetectable by even the largest ground-based telescopes. Some of them at magnitude 30 are still four billion times fainter than that which can be seen by the unaided human eye. Called the Hubble Deep Field, the image gives vertiginous new meaning to the term "recorded history."
To me, this is about close as you can get to seeing a face of God, just in the implication of the sheer magnitude of the universe.

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