Opinion Brief

A 'strangely alive' green blob in outer space?

The Hubble Telescope has snapped images of a mysterious green blob surrounding a former galaxy far, far away, and the glowing pictures are conjuring up memories of 1950s sci-fi scares

The image: NASA this week released photographs, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, of a "mysterious giant green blob in outer space" that was first discovered in 2007 by a Dutch school teacher, Hanny van Arkelin. The glowing green stream of gas appears "strangely alive." The blob, which has been given the name Hanny's Voorwerp (Voorwerp is Dutch for "object"), is some 650 million light years away and surrounds a "supermassive black hole" that was once the center of a galaxy. Parts of the blob, which is the size of our own Milky Way galaxy, are collapsing, and the pressure is giving birth to new stars. But, these "newborn stars" are "in the middle of nowhere," says Bill Keel, an astronomer at the University of Alabama, and they are "very lonely."
The reaction: The image of the green blob "resembles a poster for a forgotten sci-fi flick," says Jessica Griggs at NewScientist. If you grew up plagued by nightmares from watching the 1958 movie The Blob, says legal scholar Jonathan Turley in his blog, don't "run to your bomb shelters just yet." This thing is 650 million light years away — "each light year is about 6 trillion miles" — so it won't be gobbling up Main Street any time soon.

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