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This celestial object looks like a delicate butterfly. But it is far from serene. What resemble dainty butterfly wings are actually roiling cauldrons of gas heated to more than 36,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The gas is tearing across space at more than 600,000 miles an hour -- fast enough to travel from Earth to the moon in 24 minutes!
I can never resist space exploration stuff, as you've probably noticed, and great pictures of things. Any time you can combine those two, well, it's irresistible. Astronauts revamped the Hubble space telescope a few months ago, and the first pictures out of the gate, released today, are magnificent.
This is one of the first images taken by the new Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) the shuttle astronauts installd in May. This shot shows how well the camera works over a broad range of wavelengths. The is the Omega Centauri -- a globular cluster 16,000 light years from earth, with stars between 10 billion and 12 billion years old. You can see, from the different colors, how old each star is.
The majority of the stars in the image are yellow-white, like our Sun. These are adult stars that are shining by hydrogen fusion. Toward the end of their normal lives, the stars become cooler and larger. These late-life stars are the orange dots in the image.
Remember the Atlantis mission in May (STS 125) when the particularly jocular shuttle crew (including the Twittering astronaut Mike Massimino and his compadres) made this video for NASA's "Reel NASA" YouTube channel? They're the ones who did extensive upgrades to the Hubble, and whom we can thank for these new images from the camera they installed.
NASA TV online, where you get to spy on mission control, is fun when a shuttle is up, but NASA astronauts' YouTube channel is something pretty special. The astronauts, as we can see here, really, ahh, let their hair down, shoot "home videos" of each other and post them during their missions. The channel describes itself:
Get off my planet. Give me my space.
Get real with Reel NASA.
Space travel always has been the stuff of science fiction movies. NASA, however, has picked up where the likes of Jules Verne and Stanley Kubrick left off--remaking the story of space exploration in fact.
NASA made its boots for walking on the moon. Those boots not only left an impression on the moon's dusty surface but also on the minds of millions of people.
The men and women of the space program are working hard to build upon those historic steps. The once giant leap of mankind will now be the stepping stone for even greater giant leaps as the moon one day becomes a pit stop on the road to beyond.
Pink Floyd dared to ask: is anybody out there? NASA dares to answer this question.
Roll cameras! These reels show the action behind the real story at NASA. That's one small click.
These days, shuttle missions have become sort of passe to the average American. The shuttle program is about to be retired, though, and now the future of space exploration is up in the air. Yes, it's a money thing. And just when technology is getting good enough to bring it right to our laptops, via tech-savvy, social-networking astronauts as full of personality as they are curiosity and determination.
So the new pictures coming from the Hubble, made possible by these STS-125 astronauts, are released just a few hours after a White House panel report comes out saying NASA's plan to return to the moon won't fly.
The problem is money. The expert panel estimates it would cost about $3 billion a year beyond NASA’s current budget.“Under the budget that was proposed, exploration beyond Earth is not viable,” panel member Edward Crawley, a professor of aeronautics at MIT, told The Associated
...If America cannot achieve the goals set for space exploration, even after international and commercial partners pitch in, "it should accept the disappointment of setting lesser goals," the report said.
Crawley indicated that he didn't favor that option. The extra $3 billion a year would be “unquestionably worth it,” he told AP.
...U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who flew on the space shuttle in 1986, said in a statement that "unless the president is willing to invest an extra $3 billion a year, America will surrender the global leadership in science and technology it derives from space exploration. He needs to act boldly, like President Kennedy did before him."
There's that Kennedy thing again. Why go back to the moon anyway? Been there, done that, right? Well, the technology we have today, compared to the Apollo days, has taken a giant leap. The moon is a stepping-stone to what else is out there, and can open doors to things we just don't have on this earth. If earth's resources can sustain mankind indefinitely then it would make sense to just stay put. But can we really afford NOT to take that "small step" again?