Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Hubble Telescope Zeroes In On Green Blob In Space (Hanny's Voorwerp)

Reader Note:  With all the dire news coursing through the world (I've spent most of the last two days in automobiles driving between Pennsylvania and New York auditing Japan news; when I arrive at my destination(s), I simply switch to television coverage), I found this story, which I've been carrying around for two months, uplifting.

By SETH BORENSTEIN, AP Science Writer  
Mon Jan 10, 2011
6:21 pm ET 

WASHINGTON – The Hubble Space Telescope got its first peek at a mysterious giant green blob in outer space and found that it's strangely alive.

        The bizarre glowing blob is giving birth to new stars, some only a couple million years old, in remote areas of the universe where stars don't normally form.

        The blob of gas was first discovered by a Dutch school teacher in 2007 and is named Hanny's Voorwerp (HAN'-nee's-FOR'-vehrp). Voorwerp is Dutch for object.

        NASA released the new Hubble photo Monday at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle.

        Parts of the green blob are collapsing and the resulting pressure from that is creating the stars. The stellar nurseries are outside of a normal galaxy, which is usually where stars live.

        That makes these "very lonely newborn stars" that are "in the middle of nowhere," said Bill Keel, the University of Alabama astronomer who examined the blob.

        The blob is the size of our own Milky Way galaxy and it is 650 million light years away. Each light year is about 6 trillion miles.

         The blob is mostly hydrogen gas swirling from a close encounter of two galaxies and it glows because it is illuminated by a quasar in one of the galaxies. A quasar is a bright object full of energy powered by a black hole.

         The blob was discovered by elementary school teacher Hanny van Arkel, who was 24 at the time, as part of a worldwide Galaxy Zoo project where everyday people can look at archived star photographs to catalog new objects.

       Van Arkel said when she first saw the odd object in 2007 it appeared blue and smaller. The Hubble photo provides a clear picture and better explanation for what is happening around the blob.

        "It actually looked like a blue smudge," van Arkel told The Associated Press. "Now it looks like dancing frog in the sky because it's green." She says she can even see what passes for arms and eyes.

        Since van Arkel's discovery, astronomers have looked for similar gas blobs and found 18 of them. But all of them are about half the size of Hanny's Voorwerp, Keel said.

Hanny's original Blue Blob

The marvelous Hanny Van Arkel


  1. and more good celestial news: tomorrow night, look for the giant moon show

  2. Hi (from all of us) and we will. (We will be in Tuxedo tomorrow night). Tonight's moon (we're in Berwyn) is extremely beautiful and very moving, really. The first real strawberries arrived today in the Lancaster Farm Market. They're not at full intensity, obviously, but their fragrance was wonderful and they tasted great. With all the insanity around, this was good. I'm trying to key Caroline in to the fact that you have a reunion coming up. We're equally inattentive to these kinds of equivalent personal matters. I guess that's some an of insignificant indication of some sort of balance in the universe. Hope to see you soon. (Possibly at that reunion time.) Curtis P.S. In my initial draft of this response, I believe I used the phrase "sort of" four times. I've whittled it down to one. I mention this because one of my favorite albums is called Sort Of by Slapp Happy. I think you'd like it. I never actually thought of why the group (who were very attentive to every bit of art they released) would have chosen Sort Of as the title of their first album, but how I have something to think about. Hope you're having a good evening. Curtis