Visions of the Universe

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Earthrise (© NASA/Johnson Space Center)
© NASA/Johnson Space Center

This view of Earth was taken from the Apollo 11 spacecraft as it orbited the Moon in 1969. Describing the scene, astronaut Neil Armstrong said ‘It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small’.

Andromeda Galaxy  (© Aggelos Kechagias, 2010)
© Aggelos Kechagias, 2010

Continuing improvements in telescope and photographic technology allow twenty-first-century amateur astronomers to image galaxies in detail. Here the flat disc of Andromeda fills the frame with its swirling spiral arms, composed of billions of stars, knots of pink hydrogen gas and dark lanes of dust. Looking back from Andromeda, our own galaxy would look similar to this. Aggelos Kechagias was Shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year, 2012.

The Hubble Space Telescope  (© NASA)

The Hubble Space Telescope was sent into space in 1990. Orbiting outside the distorting effects of the Earth’s atmosphere, it has taken awesome images of our universe. This photograph shows Endeavour space shuttle astronauts F Story Musgrave (on the robotic arm) and Jeffrey Hoffman (inside the shuttle) during the first servicing mission, in 1993, which repaired a flaw in the telescope’s primary mirror.

Bright-layered rock deposits (© Malin Space Science )
© Malin Space Science

Taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft in 2007, this image shows evidence of water in the distant Martian past.

Lost in Yosemite  (© Steven Christenson, 2011)
© Steven Christenson, 2011

Taken at nightfall in Yosemite National Park, California, USA, this image picture captures the last remnants of daylight and the bright dust clouds of the Milky Way. Steven Christenson was Runner-up in the ‘People and Space’ category, Astronomy Photographer of the Year, 2012.

Orion Deep Wide Field (© Rogelio Bernal Andreo, 2009)
© Rogelio Bernal Andreo, 2009

The three bright stars on the left in this image are the stars of Orion’s Belt. Although part of a familiar constellation, a view such as this can never be seen with the naked eye. Only with long exposure time and a sensitive camera can we see the dramatic landscape of glowing gas and dust clouds that lie between the visible stars. This vast region of space includes the famous Orion and Horsehead Nebulae. Rogelio Bernal Andreo was the Winner of the ‘Deep Space’ category, Astronomy Photographer of the Year, 2010.

Saturn’s rings  (© NASA/JPL)

Taken by the Cassini orbiter spacecraft in 2005, this view of Saturn’s ring system shows how image-processing techniques can be used to convey scientific information which could not otherwise be seen. Saturn’s clouds are shown in their natural colours but false-colour enhancement has been used to show the density of the icy particles which make up the rings.


Star Trails, Blue Mountains (© Ted Dobosz, 2009 )
© Ted Dobosz, 2009

As the Earth rotates during the 30-minute exposure of this photograph, the stars make trails around the sky’s south pole. Taken in Australia, the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, two neighbouring galaxies, appear as faint blurs in the sky. Ted Dobosz was the winner of the ‘Earth and Space’ category, Astronomy Photographer of the Year, 2009.

The Orion Nebula (© NASA/ESA/M. Robberto (Space Telescope Science Institute/ESA) and the Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Team)
© NASA/ESA/M. Robberto (Space Telescope Science Institute/ESA) and the Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Team

This recent picture is a dramatic view of the nearest star-forming region to the Earth. It is made from 520 images taken in five colours. The Orion Nebula is shown in unprecedented detail with more than 3000 stars at various stages of formation. Containing a billion pixels at full resolution, NASA’s image is the sharpest view of the Orion Nebula to date.

The Galilean moons (© NASA/JPL/DLR)

Jupiter has more than 60 known moons. The four largest, shown here to scale, were first observed by Galileo in 1610. From left to right: Io, the moon closest to Jupiter, is the most volcanically active object in the Solar System; Europa has a smooth icy surface scarred by numerous cracks; Ganymede and Callisto are giants among moons, their surfaces dotted by many impact craters.  

The Butterfly Nebula  (© NASA/ESA and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team)
© NASA/ESA and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team

The death of a star which is very much like the Sun allows us to glimpse our own distant future. As the star’s internal nuclear furnace begins to fail, its outer layers are expelled back into space, forming a ‘Planetary Nebula’. Hubble’s camera is equipped with special colour filters to isolate the light from various chemicals. This image has been coloured to highlight nitrogen in red and sulphur in white.

The Sombrero Galaxy (© NASA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA))
© NASA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Like other spiral galaxies, the Sombrero consists of a flat disc of stars surrounding a fatter central bulge. However, here this central core of stars extends out to encompass the whole of the disc in a halo of stars. Like most galaxies, the heart of the Sombrero conceals a dark secret: a super-massive black hole containing as much matter as a billion suns.


Venus (© NASA)

Stripping away the clouds, the surface of Venus is revealed to be a tortured volcanic landscape scarred by vast forces from the planet’s interior. This image of Venus was created by bouncing radio signals off the planet’s surface. Unlike visible light, radio waves can penetrate the thick layers of cloud allowing us to map the planet in detail. 

Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin (© NASA/photograph by Neil Armstrong)
© NASA/photograph by Neil Armstrong

On July 20, 1969, Buzz Aldrin became the second man to set foot on the Moon. Following in the footsteps of mission commander Neil Armstrong, Aldrin is seen here next to the American flag, close to the landing site.

More than 100 images documenting the development of telescopy, photography and our understanding of our place in the universe make up this exhibition, but the centrepiece isn't an image at all, but a series of continuous ones – the 13-metre-long 'Mars Window' will show images being beamed to us by NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover, creating the impression of looking through a giant window out onto the red planet itself.



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