Outer Space Reality Show

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Two incredible astronomical tools, the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope and ESO's Very Large Telescope on a mountaintop in South America -- offer Earthlings incredible views of the cosmos, as you can see in the Cosmic Cafe's Outer Space Reality Show.

Named after the trailblazing astronomer Edwin P. Hubble, the Hubble is a large, space-based observatory that was launched with great fanfare in 1990. The first images captured by the space-scope were disappointingly fuzzy, but they sharpened up once a U.S. Space Shuttle crew installed "glasses."

Hubble telescope

Since then, the Hubble (right) has revolutionized astronomy by providing unprecedented deep and clear views of the universe, ranging from our own solar system to fledgling, far-flung galaxies that formed not long after the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, the incredible but unimaginatively named Very Large Telescope array is the flagship facility for European Organization for Astronomical Research. It is the world’s most advanced optical instrument, consisting of four unit telescopes located on Mount Paranal in southern Chile.

ESO Very Large Telescope The telescopes (left) can work together, in groups of two or three, to peer deep into the farthest reaches of the universe with crystal clarity.

The individual telescopes were christened in the Mapuche language of the indigeneous people of the area south of the Bio-Bio River. The names are Antu (Sun), Kueyen (Moon), Melipal (Southern Cross) and Yepun (Venus).

Hubble

Starry Night

A halo of light surrounds a star in the Milky Way, this image is called Starry Night because it reminded astronomers of the famed painting by impressionist master Vincent Van Gogh.



Sombrero Galaxy

The Sombrero Galaxy, officially called M104, lies 28 million light years from Earth. It has an astounding 800 billion stars - and is one of the hottest tamales in the universe!



Cat's Eye Nebula

The Cat's Eye Nebula, located in the constellation Draco has a central star that is smaller than the Sun but 10,000 times brighter. Its powerful stellar wind has hollowed out the inner area of bubble and burst through its ends.



Ant Nebula

The Ant Nebula, a cloud of dust and gas, looks like an ant when observed using ground-based telescopes. It's one of our galactic neighbors, lying between 3,000 and 6,000 light years from Earth.



Trifid Nebula

Located in the constellation Sagittarius, the Trifid Nebula is a stellar nursery 9,000 light years from Earth. New stars are being born here.



Eskimo Nebula

NGC 2392 is called the Eskimo Nebula because it looks like a face surrounded by a furry hood. The hood is, in fact, a ring of comet-shaped objects flying away from a dying star some 5,000 light years from Earth.



Canis Major

Big dog? The swirling cores of two merging galaxies in Canis Major look like two glowering eyes from 114 million light years away.



Cone Nebula

The Cone Nebula is part of the Christmas Tree Cluster in the constellation Monoceros. The length shown here, 2.5 light years, is equal to 23 million trips to the Moon and back.



Swan Nebula

Double, double toil and trouble, fire burn, and caldron bubble... Part of the Swan Nebula, 5,500 light years away, is an roiling elemental stew of hydrogen, oxygen, sulphur and other elements.



Hourglass Nebula

The Hourglass Nebula, 8,000 light years away, has a pinched-in-the-middle look because the stellar winds that shape it are weaker at the center. It's also been called "God's Eye" for obvious reasons.


Click here for photos from ESO's Very Large Telescope