I recommend you pick up a copy of Astronomy magazine's new collector edition of "Hubble's Greatest Pictures". Check out you local supermarket's magazine stand. This high-gloss special magazine edition costs $8.95 and is chock full of eye-popping images of deep space objects-everything from supernova remnants and comets to colliding galaxies and interstellar gas clouds.
All the magazine's photographs were lensed by NASA's groundbreaking Hubble Space Telescope during the 1990s and early 2000s.
While many of these stunning space images can be found on various Internet web sites (the best is:http://hubble.nasa.gov/), the tactile sensation of turning old fashioned glossy paper pages and looking at section enlargements through a hand-magnifying lens made the purchase a better interactive experience for me.
The best image is from Hubble's Ultra Deep Field (HUDF)camera and reveals 10,000 of the first galaxies to emerge from a time shortly following the Big Bang. This is an image not easily described with words; it offers the viewer a literal look far back into deep, deep time.
Over 800 individual exposures went into making the "10,000 Galaxies" image. The composite result took the NASA-HUDFteam of image processors 11 total days over two passes back in 1995 and 1998. Each exposure took 21 minutes. You can't look any deeper into time than this image.
There are many more images to marvel at in "Hubble's Greatest Pictures". It is unfortunate the publisher did not make the magazine available in a hardbound edition.
For other amazing non-Hubble deep-space images, check out online CHARAtelescope images of Altair; they are the first images of a star other than our Sun. You can see the new images at www.chara.gsu.edu.
What makes the CHARA images so special?Well, the Altair mugshot is the first of its kind; even the largest stars-like Altair-appear as pinpricks of light through our largest telescopes, including the Hubble Space Telescope.
"The images can only be made with a telescope the size of a football arena. I dare say that we may never create a single telescope mirror this large, but we can do this today with interferometry (a technique to resolve an image using multiple beams)," said University of Michigan astronomy professor John Monnier.
CHARA is actually six 1-meter telescopes atop Mount Wilson near Los Angeles. The array is akin to a huge telescope 1,000 feet in diameter.
Lou Varricchio, M.Sc., was a former NASA science writer. He is author of the book "Inconstant Moon: Discovery and Controversy on the Way to the Moon" available through the author's Facebook page.