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NASA, ESA, N. Smith (University of California, Berkeley), and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScl/AURA)

Hubble Favorites

A National Air and Space Museum astronomer picks some of his favorite images from the storied telescope.

Seyfert’s Sextet (2000)

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(NASA, J. English (U. Manitoba), S. Hunsberger, S. Zonak, J. Charlton, S. Gallagher (PSU), and L. Frattare (STScl))

“This cluster of galaxies in Serpens, imaged by the WF/PC2 [Wide Field/Planetary Camera], was first described by Carl Seyfert in the 1940s,” write DeVorkin and Smith. “The face-on spiral is a more distant galaxy coincidentally superimposed. It is not engaged in the slow, multibillion-year dance of the others.”

“I chose this image because it just tells you so much,” says DeVorkin. “If you look back into the early universe you’ll find more and more of these little beasties. In a few more billion years, the closest big galaxy to us—the Andromeda—and the Milky Way will be together. Oh, yeah, they’re rushing toward each other as we speak. The velocities are huge, but the distances are huge.

The technical processes that the astronomers used to produce these images are really not that different from all of the technical processes that were used by printers and engravers in the mid-19th century to translate what the astronomers could draw at the telescope. In both cases it’s a mediating process to bring out what the astronomer thinks he or she is seeing. We wrote the book with that in mind, to be able to educate people that this is not a departure. A number of years ago there was mild criticism in the media that these aren’t scientific images, they’re just too spectacular. But the fact is they are scientific, and we want to say that very strongly and it isn’t different from what astronomers did in the past; it’s just so much more powerful and provocative.”

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