August 15th, 2011
11:33 AM ET

Cosmic Inkblot Test

"The Dumbbell Nebula, also known as Messier 27, pumps out infrared light in this image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. The nebula was named after its resemblance to a dumbbell when seen in visible light. It was discovered in 1764 by Charles Messier, who included it as the 27th member of his famous catalog of nebulous objects. Although he did not know it at the time, this was the first in a class of objects, now known as planetary nebulae, to make it into the catalog.

Planetary nebulae, historically named for their resemblance to gas-giant planets, are now known to be the remains of stars that once looked a lot like our sun. When sun-like stars die, they puff out their outer gaseous layers, which are heated by the hot core of the dead star, called a white dwarf, and shine with infrared and visible-light colors. Our own sun will blossom into a planetary nebula when it dies in about five billion years."

Source: NASA

Filed under: Light up the screen
August 15th, 2011
11:21 AM ET

No U.S. role for now in building world's biggest radio telescope

Washington (CNN) - In 1985, astronomer Carl Sagan wrote the novel "Contact" about a vast U.S. radio telescope that receives the first communication with extraterrestrial life. The best-seller became a 1997 film starring Jodie Foster that opened many eyes to how humans might first encounter space aliens.

Now, planning is under way for what will be the world's largest radio telescope, an array of 3,000 antennae set up in remote regions of the Southern Hemisphere that will have at least 50 times more capacity than anything before - including the Expanded Very Large Array (EVLA) that was the setting for the "Contact" film.

Called the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), it will bring closer the mind-boggling possibilities explored in the book and film, with new information on the origin of the universe and the formation of galaxies and black holes. The expanded reception of SKA might even capture that first extraterrestrial contact.

However, unlike in the book and film, the United States won't be a main player, at least for the next decade.
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Filed under: In Space

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