I am disturbingly ignorant about what lies beyond our planet.
At least from where I live I can actually see the night sky. But saying that is a bit like Sarah Palin asserting her foreign policy credentials by saying she can see Russia from where she lives! Despite the few street lights, which I am fond of complaining about, the brightness of the stars remains relatively undimmed here. I have had the privilege of peering through my father-in-law's telescope, and through the one at Tekapo, also with my father-in-law. But I recall very little of his explanations. Mostly, what I retain is the sense of being but a small creature in a very vast universe. Perhaps the fact that space is uninhabited (as far as we know!) makes my ignorance a little more forgivable than the ignorance of certain Americans about their foreign neighbours!
This beautiful image of the so-called Butterfly Nebula is from a crop of pictures released on Wednesday, which have been taken by the Hubble telescope since its recent spruce up.
The May service mission was Hubble's last. "The US space agency and its international partners plan now to concentrate their efforts on preparing a bigger and more capable observatory known as the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)," I read in the BBC article accompanying the images. From there, I had a (very) brief look at the official website. There's lots to explore, which I'll have to save for another day!
The telescope's been up there since 1990, doing its thing, and will probably remain there until 2014. "Among its many discoveries, Hubble has revealed the age of the universe to be about 13 to 14 billion years, much more accurate than the old range of anywhere from 10 to 20 billion years."
Well, I'm glad they've narrowed that down!