In March 2002, astronomers were keen to try out the Hubble orbiting telescope’s spiffy new camera. The camera, installed by Shuttle astronauts during “five of the most challenging spacewalks ever attempted” was 10 times better than the telescope’s old camera.
On April 2nd, Hubble turned to the Cone Nebula, a gaseous pillar in the Milky Way 2,500 light years from Earth. After a 3.4 hour exposure, the telescope produced the beautiful image seen on the left.
NASA scientists describe this as a region “abounding in stellar nurseries where natal clouds of gas and dust are buffeted by energetic winds from newborn stars.”
Once the picture went on sale on SkyImageLab.com, a site specialising in photographs from astronomical observatories, something strange happened. Sales went through the roof. James Turley, the site’s managing editor, was puzzled by the sudden surge of orders.
“I was curious when we took an order for over 100 Cone Nebula images. The customer told us to look for the face of Jesus Christ embedded in the pillars. She called the Hubble image the ‘Jesus Nebula’. Being scientists, we were sceptical, at first.”
When the site started selling prints and posters of the image with the face of Christ superimposed on it, others also voiced their doubts.
“It looks nothing like Christ!” commented Guy Gooberman, a poster on a discussion website. “These people will see the world’s most famous carpenter in any old thing.” Fellow-poster Joe Mama agreed: “What it REALLY looks like is the main bad guy from the Resident Evil video game.”
But James Turley, though sceptical at first, was eventually convinced. His site now introduces the picture by saying: “Can you see the image of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, crowned by a sparkling ring of thorns as stars? Thus it was said: ‘And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory’ (Matthew 24:30)”
The image is approximately 2 light years in height, making it the largest claimed picture of Jesus.
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Have you ever unexpectedly seen a picture in the shapes made by clouds, or a face in a pattern of dots? Some people have been taken by surprise by glimpsing the face of Jesus in wood grain, or a snowy field, or shadows.
In these pages we’re looking at some of these strange pictures and the stories behind them. Click and explore among the images on the left. If you know any other pictures or stories, email to let us know via the contact page.
Compiled and written by Simon Jenkins.
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