Stunning 3-D Animations of Hubble’s Universe

The entire universe in blog form
April 3 2014 7:45 AM

Fly Into Hubble’s Universe!

Sharpless 2-106
Sharpless 2-106, a gigantic and spectacular star nursery.

Photo by NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

The talented astronomical artists at the Space Telescope Science Institute have been pouring the gorgeousness of Hubble pictures into our eyes and brains for years. They recently embarked on a new venture: Taking those same images and, using complementary data to get more information about the objects, creating stunning 3-D animations. Mind you, these are not “real,” but visualizations based on actual data that approximate the view you’d have if you could fly around the Universe at multiple times the speed of light.

Here’s one they made of one of my all-time favorite celestial sites, Sharpless 2-106, the birthplace of a massive star:

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Note: I added the notes and the music.

I’ve written about SH 2-106 a few times (see Related Posts below), because it’s a fascinating object as well as one of the most beautiful images Hubble has produced. While this animation isn’t exactly real, it does give you a sense that you’re seeing a huge star that’s carved out tremendous cavities in the surrounding gas. That’s difficult to see in the usual two-dimensional static images, so while these visualizations are in some ways flights of fancy, I think they provide a useful tool to better understand astronomical objects.

There are several more videos like this at hubblesite.org, so I urge you to go take a look. They’re quite lovely.

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Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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