Every now and again a photo will cross my path that shows an astronomical object in a new way, something unexpected. I love being surprised, so these images always excite me.
But sometimes the photos are exciting not because of the science in them, but the engineering. And sometimes what's actually excited is... sodium.
So, Carina Nebula, witness the firepower of this fully armed and operational observatory!
Four powerful lasers fire from the Very Large Telescope to create artificial guide stars in the sky near the Carina Nebula. Credit: ESO/G. Hüdepohl
WHOA. And, may I add: pew pew!
Everything about this photo is fantastic. The glowing nebula you see is indeed the Carina Nebula, a sprawling and ridiculously photogenic star forming gas cloud about 6,500 light years away. You can read all about it in an article I wrote that features more dazzling images.
But what are those laser-looking beams sleeting across the sky?
Well, they're laser beams. Yes, seriously.
A big problem with astronomy done from the ground is that you have to look through a hundred kilometers or more of atmosphere over our heads. The air is on constant motion, and sometimes turbulent motion. Light bends a little ...