The universe is big. Really big. There’s stuff out there beyond your wildest dreams, more beautiful, terrifying, and overwhelming than you could possibly imagine—and we are barely starting to get a picture of it all. I mean, just to give you an idea of the massive scale we’re talking about, take a look at this video:
If you were driving at 200 miles per hour, non-stop, trying to reach the star closest to us other than the Sun, it would take you more than three times the age of the universe (more than 39 billion years) to get there. If that’s just to reach our closest neighbor, which is a little over four light-years away from us, you can imagine what it's like to reach farther bodies.
Our galaxy is about 100,000 light-years from one extreme to the other—and there are billions upon billions of even larger galaxies around! Zoom out a little more, and you get the whole observable universe—literally, everything we can possibly see due to the way light travels, which we know it’s but a fraction of what there actually is. Within just the observable universe, there’s a mind-boggling 2 trillion galaxies, at least. Human brains aren’t really capable of even begin to process those kind of scales.
So, with all that space and stuff around, you’d expect to find some interesting sights out there, wouldn’t you? Well, you won’t be disappointed. Since we cannot actually process the cosmos’ size, let’s focus on its beauty instead. Here are the 19 most beautiful and staggering photos of our universe to help transport you to a whole new world.
A sparkling photo of the bright southern star known as RS Puppis, surrounded by a cocoon of stellar dust. She's just casually blinking at us, talk about photogenic. This star is massive: it's over 200 times larger than the Sun!
Remnants of a Supernova
Astronomers call this celestial object SNR 0454-67.2. Yeah, not the most endearing name. What you're seeing is the remnant of a supernova, namely, what was left behind after a massive star died in a cataclysmic explosion of epic proportions. The stellar dust, or star stuff, was launched unto the surrounding space so that millions or billions of years it can be used to compose new stars and systems. Such is the cycle of stellar life.
The Lionhearted Galaxy
40 million light-years away from us, deep within the constellation called Canes Venatici (the Hunting Dogs), lies NGC 5033 (I know, charming name). It's about the same size and shape as our own Milky Way. See all those blue regions? Those are basically forming stars. Yep, you're looking at the birth of several millions of systems, with planets and moons all of their own.
The Ghost of Cassiopeia
Here you're seeing the result of incredible powerful and violent rushes of energy from erupting stars, which can sculpt phantasmagoric clouds which end up looking like interstellar ghosts. This one in particular is called IC 63, aka "the Ghost of Cassiopeia," 550 light-years away.
A Galaxy Far Far Away
70 million light-years from us we can find NGC 4036, a bright-looking galaxy right in the heart of the constellation of the Great Bear (Ursa Major).
The Taurus Cloud
Nebulae consist in great gaseous formations of interstellar gas which collapsed or got heated and shocked into dense formations. Out of these amazing structures new stars are born. This particular nebula is called IRAS 05437+2502, and it's close to the central plane of the Milky Way, somewhere in the constellation Taurus.
The Eye of the Universe
Here's another stellar (or planetary, rather) cloud. Meet the bright NGC 3918 nebula, located 4,900 light-years away from us (in Centaurus).
Our Big Sister
This spiral galaxy is basically a larger version of the Milky Way, more than twice its size. You can totally see the family resemblance, though.
This is a great one. A beautiful shot of the galaxy called NGC 1032 (boy, we really need better names for these), which looks rather flat from our vantage point in Earth.
From the Ashes Rises the Phoenix
You see that bright star right there in the middle of this humbling shot? That's an infant 200,000 times brighter than the Sun, blasting an immense amount of ultraviolet radiation and powerful stellar winds which create violent clouds that look like hurricanes.
That big guy on the right is known as the Cartwheel Galaxy (wonder why?), and it's really far from us: a staggering 500 million light-years away, to be more precise. It lies in the constellation of Sculptor, and was created by a very powerful galactic collision.
Meet another photogenic galaxy, NGC 7331, about 45 million light-years away. It's located inside the constellation of Pegasus, the Winged Horse, and, as you can see, it's facing us at a particularly flattering angle.
Crown Jewel Galaxy
Much like in a previous photo, here you get to see the range of newborn or forming stars in all those blue regions brimming with ultraviolet light. The redder areas of this galaxy, called NGC 6753, are older stars emitting a cooler light which gets closer to the infrared side of the spectrum.
The Red Spider
This is the Red Spider Nebula, in the Sagittarius constellation (almost 3,000 light-years away). The bright star within is one of the hottest ones known so far, and its power launches violent stellar winds, measuring up to 100 billions kilometers in height, that carve the waves of this beautiful interstellar storm.
The Death of a Star
After a star much like a sun exploded, it left behind this incredible sight. The explosion launched forth enormous amounts of star material, which perfectly surround the dying white dwarf visible right in the centre of the image. This is the fate that awaits our own sun about 5 billion years into the future.
The Cosmos' Veil
The Veil Nebula right here is the result of another dying star. About 8,000 years ago, a massive star 2,1000 light-years away launched its particles flying out to such distance that it would take 110 years traveling at the speed of light to travel its whole length. The Veil lies within the Swan constellation, Cygnus.
The universe has no shortage of drama, as you can see. This nebula goes by the name of NGC 6302 ("the Butterfly Nebula," as her friends call her), and it was created by the colosal explosion of a dying star. This particular region of space can reach up to 250,000 degrees celsius.
What you see here is a small region of one of the largest stellar cradles in our galaxy, the Carina Nebula. In this fertile ground many stars are born, right in the heart of a gigantic tower of cool hydrogen that make up the stunning shape of the nebula.
The Pillars of Creation
Behold the Pillars of Creation, a particularly amazing portion of MI6, aka the Eagle Nebula. This one's among the most stunning pictures ever taken by the Hubble Telescope, and it shows us another really active star-forming spot in our mesmerizing universe.
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