Need a mere soupçon, a glass, a jar or perhaps a whole cauldron overflowing with wonder and mystery? Shown here is the astonishing pair of intertwined galaxies known as Arp 273 (from the Arp Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies), residing 300 million light years away in the beautiful constellation called Andromeda.
Andromeda itself is one of the most magnificent objects (or rather collection of objects) in the night sky. The most famous deep sky object in it, and one of the loveliest, is the often photographed spiral galaxy cataloged as Messier 31 or NGC (New General Catalogue) 224. It also goes by the name of the "Great Galaxy in Andromeda".
The image above was taken by NASA's magnificent Hubble Space Telescope and published to celebrate its twenty-first anniversary in 2011. I'm a frequent visiter to Hubble's own website as well as that of its caretaker, the Goddard Space Flight Center, and the images being published from its star studded journey are breathtaking.
In 2018, Hubble will be joined by the great new infrared James Webb Space Telescope, and the new star child promises discoveries beyond the scope of human imagination. Orbiting in space a million miles from the earth, the Webb will allow us to peer for the first time out to the rim of our own universe and beyond, seeing new solar systems, evolving galaxies and infant stars never before visible to those of us who love starry starry nights and haunt them with our telescopes and cameras.
The larger of the spiral galaxies shown here is known as UGC (Uppsala General Catalogue) 1810, and its disc is tidally distorted into a rose-like shape by the gravitational pull of its companion galaxy below, known as UGC 1813. The swathe of blue jewels across the top of the image is the combined light from clusters of intensely bright and sizzling hot young blue stars, glowing fiercely in ultraviolet light.
This is incredibly cool stuff, and if I were just a few years younger, I would be begging for a menial job at Goddard or its sister site at the California Institute of Technology, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, just to be where everything is happening. Is this art? You bet it is, and it is heavenly.