The universe is beautiful and terrifying.
Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have photographed a festive-looking nearby planetary nebula called NGC 5189. The intricate structure of this bright gaseous nebula resembles a glass-blown holiday ornament with a glowing ribbon entwined.
Image by Nasa / Reuters
This composite image of a portion of the Tarantula Nebula's central cavity illustrates the profound effect new stars can have on their environment. The young stars are acting something like cosmic, decidedly non-eco-friendly light bulbs. Each star cranks out a dazzlingly high wattage in the form of optical and ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
About 300 million light-years away, only four of these five galaxies are actually locked in a cosmic dance of repeated close encounters. The odd man out is easy to spot, though. The interacting galaxies have an overall yellowish cast. But the predominantly bluish galaxy is closer, just 40 million light-years distant, and isn't part of the interacting group.
This galaxy is having a bad millennium. In fact, the past 100 million years haven't been so good, and probably the next billion or so will be quite tumultuous. The upper left galaxy used to be a normal spiral galaxy, minding its own business, until the one toward its right, crashed into it.