Even if you theoretically traveled to the darkest desert on Earth, waited until after sunset and looked at the night sky, you wouldn’t be able to see every star that is visible.
There would be countless more in space, hidden not only by distance, but also because your eyes aren’t built to pick up on the signals they emit—invisible signals like infrared light, radio waves, and X-ray emissions. In reality, people only see a tiny fraction of it electromagnetic spectrum. It’s a sliver known as the “visible light region”.
But like Stephen Hawking he once saidwe are brilliantly overcoming these limitations with “our minds and machines” – and our species has once again lived up to that phrase.
On Thursday (Sept. 14), scientists unveiled five new images from deep space captured at different wavelengths invisible to humans. It’s an amazing collection of visuals that reveal some absolutely stunning corners of the universe. Each portrait is constructed using data collected by powerful telescopes, incl NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatorynow retired Spitzer Space Telescopeiconic The James Webb Space Telescope and A very large telescope (to name just a few).
Basically, these instruments are able to pick up streams of invisible light radiation emanating from distant regions of space in such a way that scientists can take that information, overlay it as needed, and turn it into images we can admire.
Now that we know what we’re looking at, let’s walk through the lot.
The first image NASA highlights in the five-piece statement is called “Galactic Center.” Located about 26,000 light years from Earth, it is literally the center of the Earth Milky Way the galaxy we live in. It contains a supermassive black hole, superheated clouds of gas, neutron stars (which are star beings so dense that one tablespoon would equal the weight of Mount Everest) and other gimmicky stuff.
The reason it looks a bit like a blob, instead of coiled up like you might imagine the galactic center to be, is because we’re looking at it from inside the galaxy. This internal perspective is actually one of the reasons scientists have Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration selected M87*a black hole in one of our neighboring galaxies, as the subject of humanity’s first black hole image Sgr A*, the one in the center of the Milky Way. It was easier to see the center of the galaxy, which we can see panoramically. (The EHT team eventually managed to get an image of Sgr A*. This was humanity’s second image of a black hole).
Data from Chandra, whose observations are shown in orange, green, blue, and purple, lead the charge in this view of the Milky Way’s core.
NASA then switches to Kepler’s Supernova Remnantswhich the agency says represents the remains of a white dwarf that exploded after undergoing a thermonuclear explosion.
White dwarfs they are the dying cores of stars that once flourished and shone just like our sun. One day, even our sun will become a white dwarf.
In this image, data from Chandra is seen in blue, showing “a powerful shock wave that ripped through space after the detonation,” NASA explains, while infrared data from Spitzer is seen in red and optical light from the Hubble Space Telescope in cyan and yellow. The last two show the debris of a destroyed star.
To be clear, not all of the colors mentioned may be easily discernible due to how scientists overlay certain pieces of information. For example, if you overlay yellow data with red data, you will see more of an orange tint. However, if you would like to see all the colors individually, here is a page on Chandra’s website, which will also show you non-overlaid images of the discussed portraits.
Next up is ESO 137-001, a galaxy hurtling through space at 1.5 million mph (2.4 million km/h), leaving behind two tails that are made of superheated gas.
Chandra observations show this gas in blue, the VLT shows the presence of hydrogen in red, and HST optical and infrared data are shown in orange and cyan. (Yes, Hubble can collect infrared light like the James Webb Space Telescope, but JWST is far better).
In keeping with the galaxy theme, NASA then highlights the spiral galaxy NGC 1365 in a rather spooky scene. This realm, according to declarationit contains a supermassive black hole that is fed by a steady stream of material.
Chandra’s observations, shown in purple to create a Barbie-style glow, reveal some of the material that has not yet entered the void. JWST’s impressive infrared sensors contributed to this visual as well, offering red, green and blue accents that are quite difficult to see in this version.
For the final images of the so-called “Fab Five”, scientists offer a dreamlike view of the aftermath of a collapsed star. This is the Vela Pulsar, observed by NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE), Chandra and Hubble probes. The data of these devices are distributed in light blue, purple and yellow.
But despite the name “Fab Five”, it is worth noting that these pictures can also be collectively called “Fab Million”. It sounds a little weird, but I mean, it’s really hard not to focus on the sheer wealth of stars, galaxies, and who knows what else that’s in the background of these photos.
Each of these sparks represents a cosmic wonder as beautiful as the one we see up close—in the way that every picture we take of someone in public tends to have people with lives as rich as ours in the background.
Day after day, each of these sparks seems to come to the fore thanks to our minds and our machines.