You don’t have to be a die-hard astronomy nerd or even a casual outer-space junkie to have been awed by photos of space – or energized by learning about what scientists are discovering with the new technologies available to them. If you’ve felt the wow factor, you, you might be interested in several sites that offer unprecedented access to astonishing research and stunning imagery from space.
In fact, there’s never been a better time for ordinary Internet travelers to get a taste of the final frontier. Between new electronic books and simulations of galaxies in deep space, even web newbies can enjoy cutting-edge space science.
Tour the Galaxy
One of the most spectacular space resources available now is Google’s 100,000 Stars project. 100,000 Stars is an interactive visualization of space developed for the Google Chrome web browser. If you’re using Chrome, you can zoom around space, click on a star’s name and learn more. If you’re not using Chrome, you can take a very interesting and lovely tour by clicking here.
How to use it: When you load the page, click on the question mark to learn how 100,000 Stars was put together. Click on the play arrow to take a tour of the project. The Chrome version can be a little buggy at times (I experienced a few visual glitches on a recent tour), but to experience the staggering scale of our galaxy, there are few better ways to go.
And then there’s the sheer beauty of space. The PBS series Off Book focused one episode on space photography, and once you’ve watched the video online, you’ll know why.
As we watch images of astonishing green, red and blue clouds of stars, we hear from the specialists who take data from the most powerful telescopes on Earth and in space and make it available as photographic images.
The data behind these images are among the tools scientists use to measure and observe space, so beauty is not the main motivation for space photography. But the colors we see are from the data. The universe, it turns out, is a real place and a stunningly beautiful one at that.
Dark Energy, Colliding Galaxies
Of all the scads of information collected by NASA, some of the most exciting was found by the Hubble Space Telescope. Launched in 1990, Hubble is still in orbit today. It flies outside the Earth’s atmosphere where there is no background light, capturing the most detailed images of deep space ever produced.
Hubble is the only telescope serviced by astronauts (think of Sandra Bullock in “Gravity”) and the data it has sent back to Earth have helped home in on the exact age of the universe.
NASA recently produced an e-book about Hubble’s discoveries, including videos and image galleries detailing the telescope’s record of scientific breakthroughs. The book is free, but so far only available for the iPad; click here to access the iPad Hubble ebook. For those of us without iPads, there are nice video presentations about some of Hubble’s discoveries, including one about the search for distant planets.
You’ll also learn that Hubble data has thrown doubt on the theory that the universe has stopped expanding. It seems likely now that just as we never stop growing as we age, nor does the great system in which we live.