NASA got into the "Star Trek" spirit yesterday with their astronomical sighting of two generations of the Starship Enterprise.
With the help of NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and a little imagination, this observation of the star-forming nebulae IRAS 19340+2016 and IRAS19343+2026 appear to be in the shape of NCC-1701 and NCC-1701-D, the Enterprises commanded by Captain Kirk and Captain Jean-Luc Picard, respectively.
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Without the help of the starships' outlines, however, the observation looks a little more nebula than starship, but there's definitely something there:
The psychological phenomenon of pareidolia will often make us see familiar objects in apparently random shapes -- like seeing bunnies in clouds or Jesus' face in burnt toast -- and this is no different.
The fortuitous alignment of glowing gas and dust appear to form the outlines of the Enterprises' main deflectors and saucer sections. In reality, these glowing regions inside our galaxy highlight star-forming regions where dust and gas collapses to spark the birth of new stars.
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Spitzer sees the universe in infrared light, which is really helpful when studying star-forming regions such as these. Stars are born deep within very dusty regions, so light in visible wavelengths is blocked. In infrared wavelengths, however, the space telescope can see deep inside, allowing us to see these stellar nurseries in great detail.
Live long and prosper, baby stars, live long and prosper.
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