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I’ve been a space nut as long as I can remember. Trying to grasp even the smallest hint of the size and shape of the universe boggles the mind, but it is a good boggle.

Sometimes, when a busy day my head gets bogged down (bogged is less pleasant than boggled), I do a brief mental stretch by checking out the most recent pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope. The Hubble underwent the last of several repair and maintenance missions in May of this year, and the results are breathtaking.

Take the picture above, for example. It’s a butterfly nebula called NGC 6302, in the constellation Scorpius. A huge cloud of gas and dust is blowing away from a central star hidden in the dark central cloud. I think it’s beautiful.

And this picture of “Stephan’s Quintet” — it’s a collection of five galaxies in the constellation Pegasus, four of which are colliding. The formation was first described in 1877 (by Edouard Stephan), but never before seen like this. Each of the galaxies contains millions and millions of stars in every stage of growth. Can you imagine?

I love the colors (digitally assigned though they are) in this stellar jet from a nebula in the southern constellation Carina, taken with the Hubble’s new Wide Field Camera. It took 7,500 years for light from the nebula to reach the earth — a relative neighbor in the vastness of the universe. The jet, which itself is three light years long, is a stellar nursery, a hot cloud of dust where new stars are born. Amazing.

When I ponder images like these and try to imagine a God who could create such marvels and still care about humans on our puny planet, I always find myself humming the last line of Charles Wesley’s hymn “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” for I inevitably find myself “lost in wonder, love and praise.”

[Photos from www.hubblesite.org, credit NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team. Click on any of the photos for a larger image, or follow the links to the Hubble site, where high resolution images can be found.]

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