The Factor That Keeps Us Looking Up

The N44 superbubble complex as seen by the Gemini Telescope (courtesy Gemini Observatory and T.A. Rector).
Use slider to zoom in on the image.  (Courtesy John Williams at Terrazoom.)

Astronomy and space science have this serious “Wow!” factor that really engage people’s attention. If nothing else, the “pretty pictures” grab your attention and keep it riveted for quite some time. Take this image of a star-forming nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud (a neighboring galaxy to the Milky Way Galaxy). It was taken using the Gemini Observatory and the image just draws your eye. Before you know it, you’re taking in the shape of the cloud and the stars in the field.

The evidence before your eyes speaks to the incredible processes that take place in the universe.  Of course, the first time you look at an image like this, you probably aren’t sure what you’re seeing beyond some fluffy stuff and a bunch of gorgeous stars. Don’t feel bad about not knowing what you’re seeing. Astronomers have that experience, too.  But, once they get over their awe at what they see, they get right down to work, using all the tools and knowledge they have at their disposal to figure out the what, when, where, why, and how of the processes that form what they see.

If you know an astronomer or an astronomy buff, this may give you some insight into what makes them tick — what makes them keep looking up, night after night. It’s the beauty, the awe-inspiring views, the “Wow!” factor that keeps them (and all of us who love the night skies) coming back for more!

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