Pic of the Week: Spiraling Optical Illusion

Image (Credit): Two spiral galaxies about 1 billion light-years away captured by the Hubble. (European Space Agency)

This week’s fascinating image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows what appears to be two colliding spiral galaxies. A cropped version is shown below to highlight the colors. Here is more from ESA:

The two galaxies, which have the uninspiring names SDSS J115331 and LEDA 2073461, lie more than a billion light-years from Earth. Despite appearing to collide in this image, the alignment of the two galaxies is likely just by chance — the two are not actually interacting. While these two galaxies might simply be ships that pass in the night, Hubble has captured a dazzling array of interacting galaxies in the past.

A Day in Astronomy: The Beginning of the Final Frontier

Image (Credit): Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock from Star Trek. (Paramount Pictures)

On this day in 1966, NBC television broadcast the first episode of Star Trek. The new series lasted for three seasons. It was the beginning of a “cultural phenomena,” to quote Leonard Nimoy from the 1991 television special, Star Trek 25th Anniversary Special.

While it may not technically meet the definition of astronomy, it definitely impacted many astronomers and other scientists. In 2016, NASA wrote about the technology and ideas in the Star Trek series that later matched up with reality or might exist someday. Here are two examples:

Communicators: Like Star Trek communicators, cell phones are ubiquitous now, to an annoying extent, and images and videos made with them are now collected and exchanged obsessively. Landing parties in past Star Trek shows only gave verbal reports, and did not send back images and videos, as today’s people would.

Impulse Engines: These are rocket engines based on the fusion reaction. We don’t have the technology for them yet – they are far ahead of our present chemical-fueled rockets – but they are within the bounds of real, possible future engineering.

Some Star Trek episodes also mentioned ion drive. In recent decades, Russian, U.S., European, and Japanese spacecraft have used ion drive engines, known as Hall thrusters. They are much more efficient than the usual chemical rockets and have been capable of propelling probes to asteroids and comets in our solar system.

Theoretical physicist and cosmologist Lawrence Krauss, writer of The Physics of Star Trek, also shared his insights on the influence of Star Trek in this video, Trek Talks: Lawrence Krauss on Star Trek and Science. He is among many who have seen the beneficial role of science fiction.

Fortunately, the Star Trek television and movie universe is going strong and can continue influencing young minds ready to explore this universe of ours.

Image (Credit): In 1976, NASA’s space shuttle Enterprise rolled out of the Palmdale manufacturing facilities and was greeted by NASA officials and cast members from the Star Trek television series. From left to right they are: NASA Administrator Dr. James D. Fletcher; DeForest Kelley, who portrayed Dr. “Bones” McCoy on the series; George Takei (Mr. Sulu); James Doohan (Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott); Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura); Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock); series creator Gene Roddenberry; U.S. Rep. Don Fuqua (D.-Fla.); and, Walter Koenig (Ensign Pavel Chekov). (NASA)

Extra: The pilot episode of Star Trek was named “The Man Trap.” It was not really the pilot but instead an episode in the wrong order, and the original pilot was dropped, but that is beside the point. The point is that it was bad. Really bad. You can read all about it in this article from Entertainment Weekly, “Star Trek Turns 50: A Look Back at the Desperately Sad First Episode.”

Image (Credit): Spock and Nancy in Star Trek’s “The Man Cage.” (Paramount Pictures)